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As good as your word

Four years ago (plus a few months) I was campaigning to elect Hillary Clinton, door to door in Lewiston. I found myself in a conversation with a new Mainer, perhaps his first vote, and he really wanted to know, “What’s the worse thing about Donald Trump? What’s the biggest reason you’re not voting for him?”

I decided pretty quick. “The worse thing is that he lies.” We can never trust what he tells us. He’s like a traitor, to us, the American people.

For me, once someone is a confirmed liar — President Trump or anyone – it’s hard to see the point of debating anything with that person or doing anything of consequence based on what they say. Everything after that is suspect. The value of every word is discounted.

When I meet somebody new it’s like starting across a footbridge that I’m not sure of. I begin my steps carefully, listening and watching for signs that the boards will hold, or that they might break. I am testing your word – the plank that undergirds our relationship – to see how trustworthy it is. And you are testing me; assessing my word.

Your word is really important. It’s how you show people what you’re made of, what comes out of you. Or it’s how you deceive and mask your true fears and desires. It’s how you create things, like agreements and all the benefits thereof. It’s also how you break things, like relationships and all the resulting destruction.

It’s no accident that Be Impeccable with Your Word is the first of Don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements. He says it’s the most important one, from which the other three agreements are born. Alcoholics Anonymous allows a lot of leeway in how people recover but one of the few demands is “rigorous honesty.” Without that, other stuff won’t work. Even the Bible’s Gospel of John begins with: “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with god, and the word was god.” Words are kind of a big deal.

I get that politicians lie. Hillary has lied. President Obama has lied. Bush, Clinton. Reagan. Kennedy. All liars. I know this to be true because as a politician it is impossible to not get trapped in lies. The nature of the job requires the holding of secrets. This is because in politics the timing of revealing things is often critical. When you hold a lot of secrets and when opponents are trying to trap you in lies, you’re gonna get caught in lies. It happens to presidents and all public office holders. Comes with the territory.

But this president doesn’t just get trapped in lies, he generates them. He has publicly lied over an estimated 25,000 times. At last look he was at a clip of over 50 false claims on average per day. His repeated lies about the election results are eroding our country.

This article wasn’t supposed to be about Trump’s lies. It was supposed to be about something way bigger than that; the fabric that gets woven when we can trust each other’s words. President Trump is simply too good of a glaring example of how lies tear apart our community fabric.

What I’m trying to write about is YOUR word. And how powerful it is. I’m encouraging you to value your words and not throw them around carelessly. I’m encouraging you to read The First Agreement of Don Miguel Ruiz’s book.

High quality words that people can stand on; that’s how we build trust and knit communities.

13 thoughts on “As good as your word

  1. Excellent article, Craig. At 82, approaching the end of a long life that has taken me all over the world, I can’t say that I have accumulated hundreds or even dozens of friends. I have thousands of acquaintances, but perhaps that has a lot to do with my definition of a friend, which blends easily with your “As Good As Your Word”. Too many people tell others what they intuitively sense they want to hear. That might endear them to a great many of those they meet, but it will never help them in the much harder process of finding real friends. “As Good As Your Word” is very well written and I hope is very widely read and taken to heart.

  2. So many good comments so far. Thank you!

    Here are three general reactions.

    The Media

    People sometimes refer to “the media” as categorically false or categorically bad or categorically whatever. I don’t know what someone means when they say “the media.” Professional journalism? Social media? Advertising media?

    For me, I trust well-established mainstream professional media. I understand that the Wall Street Journal and New York Times publish editorials and opinions yet I don’t ever expect those papers to report false facts. They stake their reputation on their credibility. The free market holds them accountable.

    Here’s a chart that depicts media bias: https://on.mktw.net/3skGJLY. For me it’s pretty simple. If I get news from any organization near the top of this chart (well-established mainstream professional media) I’m getting facts.

    Types of Lies

    For me, what distinguishes President Trump’s lies is the intentionality and the abundance. I believe that he is knowingly lying to deliberately mislead people. And he does it daily. To me this is different than someone who gets caught in a lie now and then.

    Integrity of Politicians

    I love that Terry Hayes spoke up and reminded us that silence is always an option. If you don’t know Terry, she served as our State Treasurer for many years and ran for Governor against Janet Mills. Thank you Terry for calling me out on my categorical assertion that all politicians get caught in lies and for holding a higher standard.

  3. Lies have always been an important metric for me. In my Pollyanna moments, I wish that politicians making patently false statements would face criminal charges or at least be held accountable in some way if they did it on the floor of Congress (see Jon Kyl’s statement in 1991 in which he only missed the mark by 87% https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2011/04/22/135641326/sen-jon-kyl-corrects-erroneous-statement-on-planned-parenthood).

    My motto has always been, “If you can’t make your point with facts, then your point isn’t worth making.” While I share many of the same ideologies as Michael Moore, the film guy, he’s on my sh*t list because he uses things outside the realm of truth in his films. Anyway, I digress.

    My point is that several years ago, I stumbled on a website Politifact (https://www.politifact.com/). In case you haven’t already visited their site, they’re a non-partisan group that takes statements made by people, mostly politicians and put them to the truth test. I remember back in 2016 when I looked up both Clinton’s and Trump’s stats during the run-up to the election; Clintion’s “mostly false, false or pants on fire” ratings were an inexcusable 22% while Trump’s on the other hand were a disgraceful 75%. Three quarters of what he said was not true and that was 4 years ago! I will keep wishing that there was a way to have politicians suffer the consequences for lying.

  4. No-not all lies are equal. Lies are different when, those in power particularly, are manufacturing them for their own good, re-election, monetary gain, etc.
    Lies that skew the truth for a larger good is a lesser lie than ones that deceive the public, to lead them into manipulated behavior like violence.
    There are lies – all sides – its real. And I wish they could do politics without them. But when they lead to violence and democratic decline – its gone too far.

  5. When we agree that it is okay to lie for the greater good we will collapse as a society. Who decides which lie is okay and which one deserves to be cancelled from their occupation?

  6. Have you noticed? President Trump has been called every name in the book with the exception of one: POLITICIAN. Maybe it’s because he calls them to task for their fails, lies, corruption, etc. Have you noticed: Unlike Obama, Bush, Clinton, Bush, the elder, Pres. Trump has kept the U.S. out any wars. Did you notice: Covid-19 not withstanding, Pres. Trump, had the best economic numbers, since the end of WW II. When the GDP was at 1 percent under Obama he told us that that was “the new norm, get use to it.” Unemployment was under 4 percent, lowest unemployment amongst minority since they started keeping records. This is why I joined nearly 75,000,000 voters and voted for President Trump again in 2020.

    1. Dear Mr. Gray,
      I’ve had several Trump supporters tell me one of the reasons they support him is because he’s not a POLITICIAN. This always puzzles me. In my mind, as soon as someone runs for public office they become a politician.
      To be successful they need votes, so they give speeches and tell people what it is they think they want to hear. They may change positions to match those of their desired voters. They may say one thing but think or mean another. Sometimes (or often) they even lie.
      Perhaps you and other Trump supporters use the word “politician” in the disparaging sense. According to Merriam-Webster, this is “a person primarily interested in political office for selfish or other narrow usually short-sighted reasons”. It’s impossible to know with certainty what lives in the heart of a person, but it appears that you and 75,000,000 other voters believe Mr. Trump’s motives were pure. I, however, do not. I say this based on his actions as both a businessman and as a President, with my eyes wide open to his proclivity for lies. The most damaging lie of all was the big lie that the election was stolen from him. I believe Mr. Trump is a politician in the very worst sense of the word.
      Perhaps your distaste lies with “professional politicians”, those who have been in politics for years or even decades, regardless of their motives for holding office. Personally speaking, I tend to favor professionalism in all walks of life because it indicates knowledge, passion, and care in executing one’s duties. It puzzles me that anyone would desire an ‘amateur politician” to hold the highest office in the land.

  7. Craig: Thank you for this opportunity to engage around truth and our expectations of our politicians. I disagree with your assertion that “as a politician it is impossible to not get trapped in lies.” Silence is not a lie, but it is always an option when one is asked to respond. If there are ‘secrets’ that must be kept to protect others, silence is an option – and it does not result in a lie.

    We have the right and the responsibility to expect honesty from those we elect to lead us. Don’t let them off the hook by suggesting that some lies are ok, whereas others are not. Who gets to be the decider in that paradigm? Encourage and support silence when honesty will result in harm.

  8. From before the election, people were adamant about hating him and began impeachment actions the day after the election.  No president has been attacked like him in history.  The media has been the biggest liars.  They don’t have to account for anything they print  or say.

  9. So, Craig, you are admitting that all politicians lie. Where is your logic then that Pres Trump is the only one to be on the receiving end of your vitriol?
    25,000 PROVEN (?) lies? Come now, seriously. The media that has been shown to print 91% negative news about Pres Trump has not been truthful and has shaped your perceptions. They lies by omission of media has been traitorous to the tradition of the fourth estate. Without a factual and non-biased source of information we have all been treated to a public campaign of propoganda. Our main media sources of long standing have done the American people a grave diservice and disrespect. It is tearing our liberties apart. Do you actually support a sitting President being banned from twitter while the murderous head of Iran is allowed to post?
    If you are not able to calmly discuss issues without promoting slander yourself, I urge you to do a bit more soul searching.

  10. Hello Craig, I could not agree more on the value of truth and our word being our bond. Integrity and character seem to be deemed somehow less important in today’s world. I disagree with how you characterize lying in your message. Putting aside that the media also lies and our America on either side cannot pretend to know the real truth, you are holding Trump up as a liar admitting others lie as well but….well its different. A lie is a lie, whether you generate it or are trapped in it. There is no real difference and any attempt to justify a lie is the real problem. This county has serious problems because we are being lied to by both sides and in the middle, if we hold the media in the middle position. So I encourage you to stand for truth for everyone. And in the beginning of John, the Word stands for Jesus. Submitted with great respect Craig!….Deborah

  11. Thank you. I’ve been tossing and turning since 3 am, thinking along the same lines. Thank you for articulating it so well.

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