In August this year, the Washington Post reported that Donald Trump had at that point in time told over 12,000 lies in the course of his presidency. He had been president for 950 days.

Perhaps the most scandalous aspect of these statistics is that people hardly find them scandalous anymore. We have become accustomed to the President of the United States simply making things up and being deliberately misleading. Indeed, his supporters seem to regard this aspect of his leadership as unimportant, given the good they feel he is doing for the country. And President Trump is not the only one – politicians all over the world seem to believe that truth is an acceptable casualty of power. Being in control is more important than being honest, and we have become inured to their lies.

It can seem easy to get away with lies and dishonesty. Things have not changed too much from when Edmund in King Lear gloated about how gullible his ‘noble’ brother Edgar was, ‘whose nature is so far from doing harms/That he suspects none; on whose foolish honesty / My practices ride easy.’ That must be the way the world seems to our students – they see leaders lying to people, and those people willingly believing their lies. 

We all face moral decisions every day. We might so desperately want to do well on a test that we take out some ‘insurance’ in the form of unauthorised notes; we may be feeling so hungry that we cannot resist stealing a chocolate bar from the convenience store; a group we are trying to impress may be being critical of one of our friends, and so we join in. It isn’t difficult to lie, or to cheat, or to take advantage of the trust of others, and the temptation to do so is sometimes great, especially if even our leaders seem to do so with impunity. 

The trouble is, that we rarely do get away with it, even if we don’t get caught. Others tend to notice what we do, even if they don’t tell us so. Our friends notice if we cheat or lie, as do our teachers, and they judge us accordingly. They may never say anything to us, but they judge us. And even if no one else does notice, we cannot deceive ourselves; even if we can fool the world, we cannot fool ourselves. Each lie we tell diminishes our own opinion about ourselves, our self-respect. No matter how much we might try to argue the point, we all have an innate sense of right and wrong, of what is true and what is not, and when we fail to live up to that standard, we hold ourselves accountable.

That is why we value integrity. It is a value which encourages us to be true to ourselves. It is essential if we are to have a positive self-regard. No matter how much we might try to convince ourselves otherwise, we can never respect a liar and a cheat, especially if it is us

Dr Paul Hicks, Headmaster, Camberwell Grammar School

This article appears in the latest edition of Spectemur. Click here to view the entire edition.