It’s Still the Best Policy

February will soon be here. It’s the month of President’s Day in the U.S., when the country celebrates two of its most treasured presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

One of Lincoln’s nicknames was “Honest Abe.” Washington believed by many to have said “I cannot tell a lie” when confronted with chopping down a cherry tree, a tale of honest that adds to his legend.

With all that honesty, it makes you wonder if they’d be welcome in the nation’s capital today. “Honest” and “politician” don’t seem to be words that go together any more. It’s a bit ironic – the old phrase goes “honest is the best policy” – that policy-makers are often looked upon as dishones

But the honesty-as-best policy was recently thrust into the spotlight by the sports world, rather than Washington D.C. In a matter of days, the nation learned that Lance Armstrong admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs to help him win a bunch of Tour de France cycling championships.

The public also learned the bizarre story of Manti T’eo, a college football player who was discovered to have a phony girlfriend who died a phony death. It appears now that the player was a victim of some kind of internet hoax, but he did admit to going along with parts of the sham because it made for a more compelling story in the news.

Both these guys were once well-respected, well-liked athletes. Now, basically because of dishonesty, their legacies are irreversibly altered.

Armstrong’s dishonesty started with the act of “doping” itself. Breaking the rules, which is what he did, is dishonest. In this day and age, when steroids and other performance enhancers cloud seem to be the norm in many people’s eyes, it’s sometimes hard to remember that it’s dishonest. The act alone puts you in “bad guy” territory.

But Armstrong took it beyond that. He has filed lawsuits, ruined reputations and personally and professionally attacked people who suggested he used steroids. He pushed and pulled down a lot of people so that he could remain perched high, above the allegations and atop the mountain of lies he created.

No doubt, he helped people with his Livestrong foundation, the organization that supports people affected by cancer. A cancer survivor himself, Armstrong founded and funded it and should have THAT be his legacy. That, however, would have required honesty. And the dishonest actions that instead ruled his life have now permanently tarnished his reputation.

Thirty years from now, Livestrong will be an treasured organization, and people will remember that it was started by a guy who cheated and lied about it for years. It’s a shame, really.

Lincoln, Washington, our moms – we’ve all be subjected to consistent messages that honesty is the best policy. We know it as kids. Why do many of us forget it as adults?

Personally, I don’t like being lied to. Even if it’s a white lie, a harmless twisting of the truth that’s designed to spare my feelings somehow. I don’t like it. Shoot straight with me. I want the truth. I can handle the truth.

I think my own appreciation and expectation of the truth makes it hard for me to be less-than-honest with others. If you’re in sales, you’re often seen as less-than-truthful. To many, sales people are snake-oil slicksters at worst and “B.S.-ers” at best.

The thing is, though, you can only B.S. people for so long. You can only lead them down the path of untruths for so far. You can’t hide the truth forever.

We’ve all seen houses of lies come crashing down. And no matter whether you’re a sports fan, a Lance Armstrong or college football fan – you feel betrayed. Lance Armstrong lied to “us,” and it feels personal even though it’s not, really. That’s what dishonesty does.

Dishonesty has ruined the reputations and altered legacies of individuals previously thought to be extraordinary. An entire lifetime of achievement can be seemingly wiped away with one revealed mistruth.

It hardly seems worth it. You can probably ask Lance Armstrong or Mante T’eo, and that’s what they’d probably tell you.

You shouldn’t have to ask them, however. Your mom was right all those years ago. Honesty is always the best policy.