Column on Lying

Encouraging Dishonesty
Tibor R. Machan
Recently I have become a genuine frequent flier. My miles keep
accumulating at various airlines and I am making good use of them
upgrading to first or business class on some of those very long trips I
have been taking of late.
As anyone can imagine, flying after 9/11/01 hasn’t become very enjoyable,
even when one is fortunate enough to get upgraded or well enough off to
buy the expensive seats. A most annoying part of flying is the wait in
those security lines, especially if one has any kind of malady involving
standing or ambling about. (I do!) OK, perhaps it is no big deal to
experience such inconveniences and displeasures. Things could be worse or,
as the Hungarians have been saying since the 16th century, “Több is
veszett Mohácsnál” (“More was lost at Mohacs”), the place in southern
Hungary that got wiped out by Turkish forces partly so as to demonstrated
to the Austro-Hungarian leadership that the Turks had muscle.
Anyway, as I was standing around in Frankfurt some days ago, on my return
trip to the US, I noticed something that had escaped me thus far. Airline
personnel routinely lie about when the plane will be leaving, when
boarding will begin, and other scheduling matters. On several occasions in
Frankfurt it was announced that our flight will be ready to board in five
or ten minutes when, in fact, thirty or fifty minutes went by before any
passengers could make a movement toward the plane.
As we stood cooling our heels–a practice I am not very good at–I noticed
that there were dozens of children among the passengers, some too young to
know what was happening but quite a few able to tell that the
announcements made by airline personnel were very far from the truth.
Repeated claims about how in a moment we will be moving aboard were simply
followed by more such claims but no movement forthcoming. This couldn’t be
missed by the kids, I am certain.
I was personally annoyed with the delays, of course, but it occurred to me
that here is an instance of adults seriously influencing children to
accept prevarication as the norm. Why, if it is OK for these uniformed men
and women to keep misleading hundreds of people should a child take it
seriously when implored to tell only the truth?
Come to think of it, such setting of bad examples surrounds children in
many areas of their lives, all the while they are being urged to be
honest. Doctors order them to come to their offices at a given time only
to make them wait at least a half an hour before they get to be seen. And
not just children. We are all taught to tell the truth, at least in church
and by various people who preach at us about how we ought to act. Yet we
are also clearly aware that the very people who give us these instructions
make a practice of not living up to what they say. Maybe a good many folks
are willing to give these liars a break, consider that circumstances may
not make full honesty possible, punctuality a reasonable expectations. But
many could well get the impression that honesty itself is simply
unimportant to many who speak to us. And these folks tend to be ones in
positions of responsibility, even authority, like the airline personnel
who unhesitatingly tell us lies. Maybe they, in turn, are being influenced
by politicians who make it a habit to lie to us!?
Well, you might say, what can they do. After all, they are facing
situations of uncertain information all the time. Yet I don’t think this
will do as any kind of excuse since such situations can be noted–there is
no great difficulty in adding to what one announces that these are simply
estimates and it is quite possible that the delays will be longer. It
appears, however, that airline companies haven’t yet figured out just how
to communicate honestly and effectively with their customers. They
probably do not want to fully disclose it when something delays a flight
that requires mechanical repair or supervision–such information, they may
be thinking, will only upset fliers. So let’s lie to them, instead. (The
Frankfurt-to-Dallas/Forth Worth flight was delayed, I later learned,
because on the flight over from the US an emergency landing had to be made
in Bangor, Maine, after smoke started pouring from the fuselage. Turned
out, it was only some trouble with the audio-video system, nothing major,
but from what I gather this was not deemed to be suitable information for
the waiting and increasingly irritated passengers.)
As technology races ahead and we eagerly embrace it for all the help it
can offer us, it is not always easy tell just how to keep up with ethics,
too. Cell phones, answering machines, voice mail, etc., and so forth–all
these require us to apply the ethical principles of human life
intelligently and competently. Even if we are making announcements to
waiting passengers at airline terminals.

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One Response to Column on Lying

  1. Unknown says:

    thank you.
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