Anne Frank and Donald Trump

By JIM NICHOLS

In an academic ethics class, one of the important initial topics is the identification of “duties we owe other people.” That is, if we are going to function together, there are certain behaviors that we should be able to expect from one another. This is a list of common-sense items such as promise keeping, justice (fairness), and trying to do good rather than harm to one another. As simple as they sound, they are not always easy to implement in real life. Another such duty is truth-telling, and it serves as a good example of the complexity of getting along with one another.

At first glance, most would agree with the absolute necessity of telling the truth. In a classroom situation I have often reminded students that, unless they can believe I am telling the truth and vice-versa, we are out of business with one another. 

On second glance, however, reality sets in. There may be other things to consider besides the absolute necessity of always telling the truth. Are there any positives to lying? Ever? 

Perhaps we could identify three types of lies.

  1. There are lies that are designed to harm others. This is an obvious one to all of us. It started in the Garden of Eden when the apparently original deceiver showed up. Scripture is clear that Satan “does not stand in the truth” and “is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) The world around us seems filled with disciples of this approach and we are taught at an early age to identify those who distort the truth with the intention of harming us. Many of the lies are attractive, extremely attractive.
  1. There are lies designed to protect others; this is more complicated. Within a medical setting one often encounters family disagreement regarding how much information to share with the family-member patient or other absent family members. In fact, distinct cultures have clearly different views on how open to be with diagnoses; the motive might be to protect others for some reason. Not telling the truth (or the whole truth) might be the choice for some.

From 1942-44 teenager Anne Frank and her family lived a hidden life behind a bookcase in a warehouse in the German-occupied Netherlands. The Gestapo searched diligently for all Jews and Anne Frank and her family survived by a close set of individuals who lied about their whereabouts. The Diary of a Young Girl explained the hidden life to modern readers. This remarkable book written by the teenager abruptly ended on August 4, 1944, when the Germans found the family. Anne died in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (probably of typhus) several months later.

Was the years-long lying by neighbors to protect the Frank family justified? Most would agree.

  1. There are lies to protect ourselves. This is another uncomfortable topic because we have all participated in it. At a youthful age we learned the art of the half-truth (or less) to avoid consequences for some action or word. I suspect each reader can remember several sweat-generating encounters with parents or teachers where our mouths were just unable to tell the truth.

Once again, I would refer to my classes where I noted for the students that we are unable to function in the room unless we believe one another.

In our country now there are clear illustrations of this type of lying. An unfortunate view of communication is that we feel if we just tell a lie frequently enough, soon the listeners will believe it to be the truth.

An election was stolen. An election was rigged. Hundreds, if not thousands, of voting officials were in cahoots to distort an election and not one of those officials has yet to confess to a misdeed. Numerous recounts were completed and came to the same conclusion, but the recounts were all incorrect. Keep telling the lie and people will soon call it the truth. The only word I can think of is “gullible.”

The Diary of a Young Girl has been translated into at least 70 languages. This straightforward story of a terrifying life of fear and grace continues to inspire generations worldwide. Anne Frank will not be forgotten. An ex-President will soon be.

Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain

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