Brian Williams: Truth or Consequences

While at a funeral this past week, I met a lady who is a psychiatrist at the VA in Oklahoma City.  When I learned where she is employed, I said:  I receive most of my healthcare at the VA in Wichita.  She asked me:  “Did you serve during Viet Nam?”

I never give just a “yes” or “no” answer when I am asked this question.  My standard reply is:  “I served during Viet Nam, but not in Viet Nam.”

I am careful to make this distinction because of something called “stolen valor.”  This is unethical behavior that makes false claims about a person’s military service or the wearing of unauthorized and unearned medals.

Stolen valor has been in the news because of false claims made by Brian Williams who claimed fan RPG hit the helicopter he was in while in Iraq in 2003. Not only did Williams tell this lie, he has stayed true to it.  His fraudulent claim has raised the dandruff of Tom Brokaw who has called on NBC to fire Williams.

Mr. Williams’ quest for fame has left him labeled as a mythomane. This lie has tarnished all the truths he has told and questioned the essence of his integrity. The problem with lies, even the white ones, is that they eventually leave you blind to the brilliant colors of truth.

People who perpetuate a lie remind me of what Solomon said in the Proverbs:  “A dog returns to its vomit,” and, “A sow that is washed returns to her wallowing in the mud.”

The tall tales told by Brian Williams may dock the tail of his career.

A Slip of the Tongue

It was Benjamin Franklin who said:  A slip of the foot you may soon recover, but a slip of the tongue you may never get over.

Slip of the tongue moments can be rather funny.  About a month ago, I listened to a grandmother proudly tell of her granddaughter’s academic pursuits:  My granddaughter is getting involved in ocean pornography.  I laughed, knowing that she meant oceanography.

I remember a slip of the tongue moment from about 18 years ago.  Frank Marley misspoke and I laughed and then teased him a little.  Frank’s reply is something that has stuck with me:  Don’t take a man for what he says—take him for what he means.

Frank died in 1994, and I still have fond memories of him.  What I remember most is not his willingness to help around the church, but the way he communicated his values by living them.

These were values that were formed through the fire of the depression years and character born out of the turmoil of the world wars.  Tom Brokaw has described Frank and his peers as the greatest generation.

The values that defined this generation are the moral fiber of those that have followed.  Scottish minister Thomas Guthrie once said:   Religion is the mortar that binds society together; the granite pedestal of liberty; the strong backbone of the social system.

Just as crumbling mortar is a threat to the integrity of a building, anemic values weaken our social structure.  A position paper by the Institute for American Values has issued a warning:  as our social morality deteriorates, life becomes harsher and less civil for everyone, social problems multiply, and we lose the confidence that we as Americans are united by shared values.

The Institute says the symptoms of this decline are manifested in several ways:

• a spreading abdication of adult responsibility and an increasing acceptance of the adult as a perpetual adolescent;

• an increased tolerance for self-centered and selfish behavior in all spheres of life;

• a growing belief that success should be measured by how much money we have and how much we can buy;

• a dramatic undermining of the distinction between right and wrong; and

• the loss of confidence in the possibility of public moral truth.

The Institute proposes a strategy for renewal and express it in several goals.  The most important, they say, is to revitalize a shared civic story informed by moral truth. Regarding our civic faith, our main challenge is to rediscover the democratic bonds that, amidst and because of our differences, unite us as one people. Regarding our public moral philosophy, our main challenge is to rediscover the existence of transmittable moral truth.

Solomon rarely committed a slip of the tongue, and people took him for what he said and for what he meant.  If society would heed his advice, the need would be met.  He said, a commitment to godly principles is essential if we are to walk the right path in life.

I hope this thought keeps you thinking.