The Rotarian

We lie alike

From the June 1925 issue of The Rotarian, provided by Dr. Wolfgang Ziegler
“The Four-Way Test was written by Chicago Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor – RI President 1954-55 – during a business crisis in 1932 and adopted by Rotary International in January 1943. From time to time, we probably all have problems to live according to the four principles, especially to the first one “Is it the Truth?
Years before, Rotarian Harry Botsford seemed to have foreseen our problem with these principles and put them into perspective in his article, published in The Rotarian, June 1925, “We Lie Alike”.” Dr. WZ


“If,” I replied, “I inadvertently walked off with some of your cheap pencils you may be assured that the act
was purely absent‑minded concentration on some of the great problems of the day,
matters of deep import on which I was, no doubt, engaged at the time to which you refer.
I may add that I have no recollection of committing this petty theft of which you complain.”

By Harry Botsford

I entered the large and impressive private office of my friend, Eversharp Burroughs, just as he pulled a long ribbon of rustling paper from the protesting interior of a complex and intricate calculating machine. He surveyed the strip of paper with what appeared to be savage satisfaction and then pressed a button and the machine subsided its rustling ticking and low‑voiced clacking with a tired sigh. I sighed in sympathy; one did feel that way after spending a few hours in the company of Eversharp Burroughs, the world’s most renowned statistician and eminent business philosopher and prophet.

He surveyed me grimly. He waved the strip of paper, before my eyes and unintelligible sounds came from his throat. Prolonged speech threatened, and recognizing the symptoms I protested: “Really, Eversharp, I only dropped in for just a minute. In a terrible rush and all that sort of thing. No less than seven editors are keeping the wires hot urging me to write feature articles for them. Must push along, old bean. Just dropped in to sharpen a dozen or so pencils with your most excellent pencil‑sharpener. Rushed to death if you know what I mean.”

“Liar!” declaimed Eversharp, heatedly. “What is that thick envelope protruding from your pocket?”

“Er‑er‑er, a‑a rejection,” answered with all of the dignity I could assume.

He chuckled. A mean sort of a chuckle it was.

“Besides,” he said tartly, “You never owned a dozen pencils in your life. My secretary tells me that the last time you were in here an inventory of pencils taken immediately after you left disclosed the fact that three of the finest were missing. Have you anything to say in defense?”

“If,” I replied, “I inadvertently walked off with some of your cheap pencils you may be assured that the act
was purely absent‑minded concentration on some of the great problems of the day,
matters of deep import on which I was, no doubt, engaged at the time to which you refer.
I may add that I have no recollection of committing this petty theft of which you complain.”

“A. very fishy explanation,” he commented. “However, knowing that you have plenty of leisure I propose to give you the advantage of the information which this paper contains ‑ the net result of a month’s time and concentration by my very large and efficient office force. I have reached the astounding conclusion that if all the lies that the average man told in the course of one month were placed, end to end, they would reach from the center of Orion to a point slightly Southwest of Mishawaka, Indiana, and thence in a northerly direction to the Municipal Cyclone Cellar of Zero Falls, Alaska!”

“My dear friend!” I protested after considering fully the import of the information volunteered, “This constant juggling of figures and this constant perusal of cycles, and business charts has been too much for you. No doubt your once mighty intellect is reeling on its throne; unquestionably the hand that rocks the adding machine is suffering from growing inertia. You are, my dear Eversharp, suffering from a complex of some malignant nature. The thing for you to do is to be phy‑”

“Bunk! Nonsense!” he retorted in his firm, domineering manner. “I’m far saner than you are. I say all men are liars ‑ otherwise this land would be filled with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and business and professional life would be at a very low ebb and unhappiness would flood the world.”

“You are a cheap cynic!” I charged.

“I am not afraid to face facts,” he stated. “I say that life would be unsupportable without lying; I state that much unhappiness would result if these lies were not told. I am not a crusader; while the facts I have uncovered about the art and science and extent of lying are interesting they do not represent a cause for real alarm.”

“Lies,” I recalled, “went out of fashion as business and professional tools, along with Gladstone collars and suspenders.”

“You are like the rest of them,” he said. “You have reached a point where you lie and accept lies unconsciously.
More and better lies are being told every day.”

“You may be right. But I doubt it, it does not seem possible,” I faltered. Past experience has taught
that arguing with Eversharp Burroughs is a futile waste of time and energy.

“Touching on that rejection you carry in your pocket,” he resumed intently. “May I see the letter the editor wrote you. I merely wish to prove to you that lying is done now and then by the best of men and, in the so‑called profession of literature untruths are often and frequently told in the guise of golden phrases.”

“You’re dead wrong there! I defended. “Editors are gentlemen of high moral character.
They would not stoop to lie or trifle with the truth.”

He examined the letter and chuckled softly. “I thought so,” he ejaculated joyfully. “He says that he returns your most interesting story because his publication is well supplied with material at present and he hopes you will experience no difficulty in disposing of it elsewhere and signs himself ‘Your obedient servant.’ Now I have on my desk a letter from this very same editor asking me for an article. That proves that he is not well supplied. Now do you really suppose he really hopes you dispose of the article? Don’t you suppose this letter is probably known as ‘Form 567890’ in his office and sent out with all rejections? Eh? And do you suppose he, for one measly moment, considers himself as your obedient servant? Eh? Try treating him like a servant and see what happens! Order him to pay you thirty cents a
word for some of your mediocre outbursts. Do you know that my analysis has proven
that during the course of an eight‑hour day that the average editor tells ‑”

“Stop!” I cried hoarsely. “Cease! Would you destroy my faith in those with whom I deal?
Would you ruthlessly tear down the high reverence I have for editors, all and sundry?”

“Your reverence is largely built on the size of the checks which editors send you,”
he commented briefly and sourly ‑ and untruthfully.

“But professional men, now,” I asked, anxious to secure other angles of his distasteful subject.
“Surely they do not lie; do they not swear a sort of an oath to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”

“Maybe!” he admitted. “Most of ’em forget it pretty promptly if they do. Take a doctor, for instance. The patient is in pretty bad shape and if the patient doesn’t realize the seriousness of his state, he may recover. He asks the doctor what he thinks of his condition and the doctor is bound to tell him ‑ a lie. Otherwise the patient might die.
And isn’t it true that very often a doctor tells a patient ‘Now this won’t hurt;
all you will feel will be a little prick and after that no pain whatever’.”

“Don’t they!” I agreed heartily, bearing in mind twelve weeks spent in a sanitarium.

“Exactly!” nodded Eversharp. “Did I ever tell you about the time I was operated on for ‑”

“Some other time,” I fended. “How about lawyers? Do they lie?”

“Many a time and oft,” he answered. “Necessary and essential lies, too. As a matter of fact the art of lying owes much to the legal fraternity. Some of the best lies ever told have been told by lawyers. By this I do not mean to cast aspersions on the profession; far from it, as a matter of fact, they should point with pride to the fact. Would they be justified in telling a client that he did not stand a burglar’s chance in a pending legal action? No! Why”

“I’ll bite,” I said hopefully.

“Because evidence and legal points may come up in the action that will completely change the aspect of the case,” he answered. “Such is very often the case. It is usually worth while to bring any case to trial although it may not be sound policy to tell the client that, as conditions exist, no chance to win appears to present itself.
A little lie may work out advantageously, you see.”

“That reminds me of the time my Aunt Martha sued the railroad company for a cow one of their trains hit.
She hired a lawyer named ‑”

“Some other time, my dear fellow!” interposed Eversharp. “Let us stick closely to the subject of lying, past, present, and future. My investigation has brought forth the fact that married men are much more accomplished liars than single men.
My analysis has further information on this subject which discloses
the fact that the better liar a man is the happier is his married life.”

“How do you account for that?” I questioned. “Why? Can you prove it?”

“I am not in the habit of making statements that I cannot prove,” was the uncompromising answer. “As a married man you should instantly agree with me. But like most other men you have reached a stage where you cannot tell a lie when you see it ‑ or utter it. It is policy for a married man to lie frequently. It makes for happiness in the marital relations. The excellent liar is a tactful individual. When my wife appears in a new hat and asks me how I like it, I beam and say “Splendid!” although the hat may not become her. Thus I make her very happy and thus I save the cost of a new hat. The economic advantages of lying are so great that it would take a truly great philosopher to fully appraise them. If there are lumps in the oatmeal and my wife asks me if it is all right I affirm that the mess is delicious. Otherwise there would be a row; the cook would be called in and scolded and would, perhaps, leave us forthwith.
In any event telling the truth wouldn’t make the oatmeal any more palatable.”

“What you need,” I suggested, “is a new cook.”

“A remedy we have tried no less than nine times in the past six months,” he countered dryly. He picked up several closely typewritten sheets and again resumed the subject. “When it comes to automobiles, the truth is not in the automobile owner. He tells of great mileage ‑ of a speed that is not only impossible but illegal. He boasts to his friends of his car’s performance ‑ and privately he profanely consigns the car to the uttermost depths of a certain fiery furnace. And when he starts out to buy a new car he always tells the salesman that he, personally, wouldn’t think of disposing of the old buss but his wife is set on getting a new car. Claims that the old rattletrap is as good as new. Sometimes he even convinces the salesman that there is some truth in the statement ‑ and consequently the used‑car market is a problem that seriously threatens the automotive business.

“Boasting,” he continued staring at me accusingly, “is merely another form of telling a lie.
How many editors did you say were wiring you to hustle along masterpieces?”

“Er‑er‑five,” I said thickly.

“That’s better,” he acknowledged with a nod of satisfaction. “All of us boast more or less and a boaster is ever a liar. Briggs made some mighty clever cartoons on the subject. ‘Me and Mine’ ‑ remember them?”

I nodded. “But,” I asked, “Isn’t it possible for a man to do a day’s business without telling a lie?”

“Possible but highly improbable,” he said in answer. “A customer or a client may call one’s attention to some pet hobby of his ‑ a blooded dog, maybe; or he, may raise peonies ‑ the lowest form of flower in all the world in my humble opinion. ‘He asks my opinion on the dog or the flower or the whatnot. Do I frankly tell him I’m not interested or that his choice is unfortunate and in poor taste? Not if I value his business! Neither do I refrain from comment. I lie, deliberately and tactfully and I praise his hobby, his choice and his good taste. And I get and keep his business and he esteems me as a person of rare discrimination. And so it is with the butcher, the baker, the candle-stick‑maker, the dentist, the druggist and the taxicab driver; we play the game and toss hither and yon a choice assortment of happiness‑breeding lies and half‑truths.
Otherwise civilization would reel on its throne.

“Understand I am of the opinion that lies are dangerous and not at all ethical; but what I am getting at is that they are necessary if one desires to get through life smoothly. A comedy was once written about the serious circumstances that would prevail if a business man told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth for a few days. Say, that chap got himself into all sort of difficulties and he nearly lost his friends and his fiancée.”

“I remember it,” I agreed. “Well, well, old fellow, I certainly have enjoyed this little talk! Must be rushing along now. Plenty of work staring me in the face. Rushed, if you know what I mean. Three editors are keeping the wires hot asking for feature stuff. Sorry and all that sort of thing; I’d like to stay and hear more of this investigation but I haven’t the time.”

He leaned forward in his chair and deftly removed from my vest pocket a pencil
I had absent‑mindedly picked up in the heat of the discussion.

“Now, why not let both of these editors wait a while?” he pleaded. “I’d like to show you some special and particular data in regard to lies that I haven’t touched on as yet. For example, in the real‑estate and insurance business alone,
we find that the average salesman tells on the average of ‑”

“Really!” I protested. “I must be pushing along. Can’t keep an editor waiting you know, especially after
he has sent you a wire. I’d like to stay; honestly, I would. But I must get that article out.”

At the door he laid a detaining hand on my shoulder. “Listen,” he whispered, “I haven’t told you the really high points of this investigation. Wait just a moment. I want to tell you what we discovered about untruths in the advertising field, at the marriage‑license bureaus. And you’ll be astounded when I spring the real facts in the building trades as it pertains to contractors. And what I can tell you about summer resort advertising. And fishermen! Say, out in Michigan –

I cast off the detaining hand. “I’m going,” I said firmly. “I must go. I have work to do.
I have an idea for an article that I want to whip into shape while it is fresh.”

“I’m real sorry to see you go,” he said genially. ‘Very sorry. By the way whom are you writing this article for?”

“For THE ROTARIAN,” I answered promptly.

“Think they’ll take it?” he asked anxiously following me down the hall to the elevator.

“I’m sure of it,” I said confidently, poking the bell button.

“There’s a certain term they use in golf,” he said irrelevantly.
“It should be used in a coat of arms worn by every business man.

“What is it?” I asked just as the elevator boy slammed the door.

I don’t know much about golf. I’ve asked a number of golf fiends and so far I’ve garnered no information worth while.
The other day I put the matter seriously before a friend of mine, a golf widow whose intelligence I rate highly.

“That’s easy, she said brightly. The phrase is “WE LIE ALIKE”.