Concept of the Month -- April 2009

Lies: "A Taint of Death"

"There is a taint of death, a flavour of mortality in lies -- which is exactly what I hate and detest in the world -- what I want to forget. It makes me miserable and sick, like biting something rotten would do."

These are words written by Joseph Conrad in 1902. They appear in The Heart of Darkness, a work that has been acclaimed as perhaps the greatest short novel in the English language. Anyone who has had to depend upon a liar can understand these observations by Conrad.

As flawed as our society is, we operate day to day on a basis of trusting that we are being told the truth. When you ask a person for directions, you trust he is doing his best to assist you. When you go to the doctor, you trust both his competence and sincerity in evaluating and treating you. When you buy meat at the grocery store, you trust that it is fresh.

Civilization is based largely on trust. When that trust is breached repeatedly, you find your world turned upside down. Consider parent-child relationships. You want to believe your child when he tells you where he has been, with whom he has been spending his time, whether he has done his homework, and so on. If your youngster violates that trust again and again, you become frustrated, angry, finally despairing. You find yourself behaving like a detective, checking up on your offspring and interrogating him. You start restricting him and, in doing so, you restrict your own life. Every time the phone rings, you worry whether it is a neighbor, the school, the police, or even a hospital telling you your child has been injured or is dead. You fear the worst and come close to abandoning hope for his future. Your relationship with your son or daughter has totally changed. Even though you want to believe him, you dare not. You even have begun to dislike your child and hate yourself for feeling that wa. The parent-child relationship you long assumed you would have, that you still yearn for is gone -- an example of Conrad's "taint of death."

Substitute the word spouse, employer, or colleague, and the same holds true. Relying upon a liar is like trying to pull yourself out of quicksand. You simply get sucked down further and further.

Or consider the "taint of death" recently inflicted upon thousands of trusting investors by financial crooks. Bernie Madoff was a man who gradually and calculatingly became a trusted and revered financial titan. Insinuating himself into the lives of trusting men and women, he fleeced them of the funds for which they had labored, some being left with nothing after his giant ponzzi scheme came unraveled.

Conrad spoke of the impact of lies as "biting into something rotten." His words, penned 107 years ago, still speak eloquently of the impact of the criminal's lies upon his victims.

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