I have a difficult decision to take nearly every day at my federal agency job: What agency employees are doing is at times outside the bounds of ethics and law. Do I say what is true and give up the possibility of being promoted and accept the probability of being excluded from future policy workgroups? Or, do I stay quiet when possible and lie when I must in order to stay in the power mix for the continued opportunities to be in the room where government chooses whether and how to regulate industry and thereby, be able to make minor differences here and there?
I think the best thing is to be honest, as well as have compassion for those who are perpetuating falsehood. Let me explain.
Since your intention is clearly to move the situation in a positive direction, honesty will best serve this goal. As a matter of principle, lies—even well-intentioned ones and those that promote a good cause—actually weaken us both as individuals and as a society. They damage the fabric of society and entangle us in knots that are very hard, sometimes impossible to undo. Small lies often beget bigger lies because this is the only way to maintain pretense. This becomes a great burden because either we live in fear of slipping up and having our lies exposed or we start to believe them ourselves. Either way, we lose touch with our conscience.
And it’s worth noting that the idea that it’s OK to lie for the greater good is the ends-justify-the-means logic that has enabled communism (lying is also endemic in communist cultures). But lies taint any cause they are involved in.
Of course, there may be some gray area here—if you are an undercover agent or plan to be a whistleblower, then your job will involve certain subterfuge. Whether this applies to you, however, let us consider further down.
I don’t mean to be on a soapbox here, as I’ve certainly told my share of untruths of the small white-lie variety, but I’ve always felt afterward that it was not right and, upon reflection, realized I could have handled the situation differently. So if lies have become common in the culture of your workplace and you have told them, so be it, but it sounds as though your conscience is uneasy, and I believe that we can always work to improve and correct our mistakes. I truly believe, as did our Founding Fathers, that we will not be able to maintain a free society if people don’t maintain integrity. And being honest is certainly a key facet of integrity.
In his Farewell Address, George Washington said: “I hold the maxim no less applicable to public than to private affairs, that honesty is the best policy.”
And Thomas Jefferson said in a letter that “honesty is the 1st chapter in the book of wisdom.”
Connecting With Conscience
In your question, you say that by staying in the power mix, you are able to make minor differences here and there. I wonder, though, if perhaps you could be making a bigger difference?
So if I were in your position, I would try to listen deeply to your conscience. My suggestion would be to find a time and place of quiet, perhaps out in nature, and try to form a clear question your conscience can answer. For example: How can I be most responsible for and of most service to (family, country, God, self, etc.)?
Allow yourself to sit with this question, perhaps reflect on it in writing if that feels right, or allow your imagination to step outside of your life and view it from different perspectives. For example, what would you want to tell your grandchildren about the decision you made at this time? Or if you were to read about this situation in a history book, what would you want to read about yourself? Or if you were giving advice to a loved one, what would you tell them?
If you are a person of faith, pray about it.
It may be that in order to listen to your conscience you will need to silence other voices—the ones that bring up distracting thoughts, worries, fears, or that seem limiting or make excuses.
In my experience, the answer always comes, but maybe not right away. You might find it clearly in your head as you awake some morning or it might strike you at any other time when you are not seeking it.
It might also come in bits and pieces. It’s been my experience that when I know I need to change something in my life but I’m not able to say exactly what, that, as I read things or talk with others, ideas seem to pop out and resonate and I gradually come to my answer and make the changes.
It might be something difficult to do, but if it truly comes from your conscience, I think you should still feel at peace as well as a sense of conviction.
Some possibilities: Maybe you could quit this job and use your skills to create something with a positive impact. It may no longer be possible to save this agency, and perhaps in a few years it will be investigated and totally revamped. Or maybe you could be the whistleblower who exposes its rotten insides.
Another possibility could be that you commit fully to being truthful, and the strength and calm of your conviction starts to transform the people around you. They sense that you are courageous and trustworthy and this draws them to seek your advice. They too cease to lie and the agency is slowly renewed from a rotten state where lying is commonplace to a place where honesty prevails, and it can again serve the function it is supposed to. This is a rather spiritual solution, but I truly believe that ultimately the salvation of our country lies in awakening the consciences of more people. Only with virtue will we be strong.
And this is where the compassion comes in. We don’t need to have anger, resentment, or disdain for people who deceive, although we might choose to distance ourselves from them. Reflection gives us humility, as we are all subject to human frailty and we’ve all made mistakes. They are ultimately creating unhappiness for themselves and we don’t need to add more or give ourselves more to bring us down.
And compassion need not be in conflict with justice. If people are breaking the law repeatedly and intentionally and causing harm, then you can expose them. Being in prison might afford them the time and space necessary to reflect and awaken their conscience.
Of course, these thoughts are just suggestions, I think your conscience will tell you what is right to do.
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June Kellum is a married mother of three and longtime Epoch Times journalist covering family, relationships, and health topics.