Lately, I’ve been noticing a trend that’s started to bug me, and so I think it’s time to bring it to the pulpit: too many people are becoming too comfortable with inflating the truth or telling partial truths, with the intent, I suppose, of emphasizing their own importance.
Let me give you an example (or two or three).
Earlier today, I was researching a blogger to determine whether he might be a good fit for an assignment. The blogger is an acquaintance, so I’m familiar with his work; I just wanted to drill down on some stats and read up on some projects he’d done. He doesn’t have any print credentials, which was fine for my purposes, so I was surprised to see him proclaim, right on his home page, that he has been published by a prestigious print publication. In actuality, he has been published by the blog of a subsidiary of the publication, and the subsidiary is considerably different from the primary publication, as is its level of prestige. It’s like saying that you write for The LA Times when you actually have a blog on their community site.^
Now did he tell a lie?
If you’re a concrete thinker, you’ll probably say “Nah, he didn’t lie… not really. In the strictest, most literal interpretation, he did write for said publication. But for me, a Catholic school alumna, I can’t help but think of the old “sin of omission” argument: what you leave out can constitute a lie as much as a bald-faced falsehood.
Let me give you another example, drawn from a different context.
I have another acquaintance (not a writer) whose professional biography says she is an alumna of an Ivy League university. In truth, she attended a three-day professional workshop on the school’s campus, not taught by faculty, and received a professional development certificate. She is a person who is smart, capable, and quite respected in her field. Does it matter that she didn’t really graduate with a degree?
These are two anecdotes, sure, but they are by no means outliers. I know of many instances where people are stretching the truth beyond the limits of credibility and veracity, and it’s troubling.
Here’s what I find problematic about these half-truths (or quarter truths… because really, for me, they cross the line into the territory of lies): they mislead others, they diminish the value (perceived and actual) of the accomplishment or accolade by people who have actually earned or achieved it, and they reflect the fundamental insecurity of the person broadcasting the white lies. It seems that we’ve become convinced that we’re only worthy–and, crucially, that others only consider us worthy–if we’ve got a superlative (or two or 10) attached to our bios. And instead of focusing on going after the brass ring–whatever our own brass rings are– we decide to just invent them instead.
As a writer, I’m particularly disturbed by the tendency to inflate one’s publication history because I feel like it’s a disservice to one’s colleagues.
How can you avoid partial honesty? It’s pretty simple:
Tell the truth.
Be honest and exact about your bylines; if you’re a good writer, your work will speak for itself… the lily doesn’t need to be gilded. If you’re not sure how to do this, I humbly suggest checking out my publications list, where I distinguish print and online work parenthetically. It’s one way, though certainly not the only one, for presenting one’s work honestly.
What are your thoughts about partial honesty? Do you see this tendency increasing? Preach it in the comments.
^And I’ve actually met someone who told that little white lie, too (though it was a different newspaper).