Lies are like fire, facts are like stone

posted October 12, 2012 by Jer


I don't watch the debates, but I read the reaction to debates. I care a lot more what people think than what leaders say. So that's why I caught this op-ed by Dylan Matthews regarding the Vice Presidential Debate. In the interest of keeping this essay bipartisan, I'll skip everything he says about any particular candidate and get straight to the one line that inspired me.

"I can't believe we have to keep saying this."
- Dylan Matthews, The Washington Post

I can. The strategy of liars is to say the lie often and passionately so it will appear to have the same merit as facts. This subsequently infuriates the truthful and makes them appear less credible. Unfortunately, fighting passion with passion is akin to the similar popular analogy regarding conflagration. You can not fight a passionate liar with passionate truth. The facts may need repeating in the face of a repeated lie, but the fact-checker must always maintain composure.

When lies make us angry, we become defensive and foolish. The facts aren't going anywhere. They are our castle walls, and there's no sense leaving them to fight in an impassioned melee. When one party lies, passion will not make them stop lying, but calm consistency with the facts will shake and shatter the lies to their poorly-crafted roots. Passion makes lies seem alluring, but it makes facts sound frivolous. You don't need passion to sell the facts. They're much stronger than lies.

You'll note I'm not mentioning a political party here. That is because I think we should stop presuming it's a function of only one side. I have a fairly good idea who I'm voting for, but I'm not going to defend when that person lies. I look to the other side to fact check my side. We don't need to get angry or defensive when presenting facts. Instead we need to come together and hold all our leaders to the truth. If we refuse to give lies power, we can actually have a conversation about effective ideas rather than impassioned ideals. When we fight, argue and defend, we are serving no purpose but to empower lies. This game of passion and lies has been the only political game I've ever known. I think it's time to play a new game.

So here is my proposal. When a leader lies, let us not attack that leader. Let us come together, those who agree or disagree with that leader's ideology, and focus on exposing the lie. Let us stand steadfast upon the wall of facts. Let us send a message that we will not play this game any longer. When lies are lifted like flaming swords of war, let us no longer attack the man who lifts it or the army they lead. Let us attack the sword. The quest for the American throne is not a war. It is a discussion. It is a negotiation. When a leader lifts the sword, all of us must calmly remind that leader that this is not the arena for swords. We must come together to insure the swords remain sheathed.

I'm tired of fighting. I don't believe people who disagree with me are wrong, or worse yet, stupid. I think they have a point of view based on their life and their community. I believe their ideology, like mine, is built off of guidance from those they respect. I'm tired of putting them on the defensive. I'm tired of making them angry just because we have a different point of view. Most of all, I'm tired of how the fire and passion of The Race enables them - and us - to be blinded by and subsequently defensive of our representatives' lies. Just for fun, I dare you to read this paragraph again pretending I'm the side you don't think I am. Let me know if it sounds any different.

So yes. When liars repeat their lies, you may have to repeat the facts. Do so calmly. Make the facts available, and pay attention when others do. Calm the passionate, because they are likely lying or misrepresenting the facts in defense. Condemn the lie instead of the liar and you'll find a human being with an idea that might be better structured with facts.

Lies are like fire. They move fast, incite emotion and destroy everything with single-minded focus. Facts are like stone. They take time to build with, but they are strong and stoic, making a reliable foundation that - when built right - can withstand even the most furious inferno. It's time to shun the fire so we can build with stone.