“So, I am your enemy because I tell you the truth.” Galatians 4:16
This Bible verse is probably one of the most impactful verses. Unfortunately, I have found that telling the truth is a liability in nearly every aspect of my life. No matter how you deliver the truth, it has negative consequences. Lying in our daily interactions with people, in the military profession, in politics, in our religious institutions, the justice system, the educational system, and the media has become the norm and progressed from lying about small things to lying about big things. The advent of social media has created an exponentially negative impact on the promulgation of lies in our society.
I write this article with the most profound sense of humility and an understanding that I have only sometimes been truthful. I have said many times that I am an imperfect leader, and in my journey to be the best son, husband, father, grandfather, friend, person, and leader I can be, I made many mistakes.
Speaking the truth is hugely important. I understand that telling the truth comes with consequences. We are expected to speak the truth; unfortunately, lying has become more accepted in our society. People expect their leaders to be truthful with them and will default to believing them even when common sense tells them to do otherwise. People have a vast capacity for forgiveness, and those that lie know this and use it to their benefit.
I have spent the majority of my adult life in leadership positions serving at the highest levels of our military. It is essential for leaders to act and admit they are human. Leaders do not need to know everything. Leaders do not have to be the smartest person in the room. Leaders do not always have to be right. It is not a sign of weakness for a leader to change their mind. The most important things leaders must be are truthful, honest, and always maintain the highest character and integrity. Leaders must be held accountable for their actions, be responsible to others before themselves, and not do anything illegal or immoral. This is a high standard and must always remain a high standard. Certain professions demand honesty and truthfulness in words and deeds without compromise. Some are the military, elected officials, police, lawyers, judges, teachers, doctors, and religious leaders.
Subordinates should know who their leaders are. Stoic, aloof, and hotheaded leaders create organizations that feed off of perceptions, favoritism, and poor communication. This leads to considerable problems in organizations. When I talked with my subordinates, I emphasized the following things about myself and what I learned about accountability, responsibility, transparency, and truthfulness.
I am an imperfect leader, so humility and gratitude are essential. I will admit my mistakes, be accountable, take responsibility for my actions, be trustworthy, and be truthful in word deeds. I will give them credit for everything that goes right, and I will take responsibility for everything that goes wrong. I want them to take chances, be creative, and use their ingenuity. This is a win-win situation for them as long as they do their job and do not do anything illegal, immoral, or negligently unsafe.
I have made every leadership mistake in the book. That is why honesty and telling the truth is so important. A good leader requires a lifetime of training, education, and coaching. I expect you to make mistakes. I expect you to avoid making the same mistake twice. Making mistakes is part of growing; don’t fear failing. You will never fail if you never give up. Unfortunately, in our society, making mistakes, admitting you are wrong, and taking accountability for your actions have become unacceptable. This leads to lying, dishonesty, deceitfulness, lack of trust, and not taking responsibility for your actions.
I read in 1 Timothy 4:8 that “Physical training is good, but training for godliness is much better, promising benefits in this life and in the life to come.” I did not take care of myself physically, mentally, or spiritually; leaders need to take care of themselves. A general that cannot take care of themselves has no business taking care of anyone else. I learned through this journey that people, family, and mission (in that order) must be the focus of all leaders.
I learned as a leader the importance of listening. God instructs us to listen well: “Be quick to listen and slow to speak.” (James 1:19). I did not listen effectively; that is why listening to understand versus listening to respond is so essential for a leader. Patience is a virtue. Proverbs 14:29 “He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding: but he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” I learned to value patience as a critical leadership attribute and as a leader. It is essential to understand waiting versus acting in many situations.
Decisiveness as a leader is vital, but not if it results in folly.
The goal of self-awareness should be greater self-acceptance and less harsh self-judgment. Jesus says, in Matthew 7:1-2, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way, you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” I learned the value of working on my leadership weaknesses and being self-aware. A leader must maintain their strengths, work on their shortcomings, and not over-emphasize them or hide and ignore their weaknesses. Trust me, your subordinates will know, so it is better not to foul yourself and get this right.
I thought that admitting mistakes was a weakness. Ego and pride are the Achilles’ heel of a leader.
I learned that recognizing your weaknesses and asking for help made you stronger. In 2 Corinthians 12, Paul quotes Jesus, who said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, in difficulties; I always became smarter, stronger, and wiser in times of adversity.
I told the men and women I work for that I wanted a merit-based command. Everyone in our command will be evaluated on their character and how well they do their job. I want everyone in our command to tell the truth. I want them to respect each other and do their job with excellence.
I want the people in our command to tell me what I need to hear, not what they think I want to hear. Establishing trust throughout the command was our goal.
We could do this because everybody understood that their command team had their back, mistakes were accepted, and everyone was expected to know and do their job. Everyone in the command, regardless of rank, was held accountable and responsible for their actions. Everyone in the command knew there were consequences for illegal, immoral, and negligently unsafe behavior. Everyone in the command knew that if they told the truth, the chain of command would support them regardless of the circumstances. This did not mean that there would not be consequences for their actions, but it did mean they would maintain their dignity, character, and integrity in the face of adversity.
As a senior leader in the military, I learned there were no consequences for lying at the senior level. I learned that lying was institutionalized. This, of course, is entirely against military values. Not only did my personal experience confirm this, but a monograph published by the Army War College, called, Lying to Ourselves, explained in detail this culture of lying (Lying to Ourselves: Dishonesty in the Army Profession). A book called The Cost of Loyalty by Tim Bakken also describes institutional dishonesty and lying. And lastly, a book called Tarnished, by George E. Reed, also describes the culture of toxic leadership.
After retiring from the military, I learned firsthand the dishonesty in the political system on both sides of the aisle. There are no obvious political consequences for lying. Politicians have learned a valuable lesson. Lying works, plain and simple. I was lied to and deceived by a governor. I was lied to by members of our State Legislature. I was lied about and publicly persecuted by a US Senator with false commercials. Money and power by both parties were used to lie about me.
The senator did not campaign to get re-elected; she spent 56 million dollars on lies, which worked. Family members and friends abandoned me for no other reason than I was running as a Republican, and they believed the lies. I received death threats. I received threats against my family. I was lied about in the media. I had people drive by my house yelling obscenities. I would have to use my combat driving skills on the highway as people tried to run me off the road. I would get obscene or inappropriate gestures from people in cars. On one occasion, a man my age leaving the church by my house gave me a disrespectful gesture with his wife and grandchild in his car. I was constantly followed around by disrespectful 18-, 19-, and 20-year-old young adults paid by the democratic party to record everything I said and did and then twist it in ads. I was called a danger to our democracy by those that never served in the military. I was a hero at veteran events with these same politicians and people and a threat to our nation as a candidate. I watched commercials that exploited mothers, older adults, young people, and veterans to promote lies and deceive voters about my beliefs. One commercial accused me of wanting to kill mothers. My 8-year-old granddaughter saw the commercial and started crying, asking me if I wanted to kill mothers. No honey, of course not; I spent my life saving lives, not taking lives. These are just lies; by Maggie Hassan; she said, I said yes. And finally, I was denied job opportunities.
I learned that the idea of an informed and educated electorate is false. I realized that the electorate is brainwashed by the conservative and liberal media, easily deceived, fall for lies as long as it fits their worldview, and acts hatefully towards those they do not understand or are told by others are wrong. Very little, if any, personal knowledge goes into the electorate's beliefs. I sat in living rooms all over the State of New Hampshire and listened to stories on how people are targeted for their beliefs. They are afraid they will lose their jobs, their kids will be harassed, and their property will be vandalized. I do not remember this happening in my neighborhood when I was a kid. I did not experience political divisiveness, and I could not tell you which neighbors were Democrats and which were Republicans.
The fault here is not our blatant and easy acceptance of lies but our growing indifference to respecting others and the importance of character, integrity, accountability, responsibility, and trustworthiness. Instead, our values and principles have been replaced with self-serving ideas of power, money, benefits, and the agenda of divisive political parties. The media has become divisive and fails to tell the truth. The fact-checkers are just as biased. This allows our political leaders, military leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, justice leaders, medical professionals, religious leaders, and social media platforms to enable them to become serial liars at our expense.
What has changed in our political climate to make such excuses for liars? The answer is; We have allowed this to happen. We are the problem. Our founding fathers gave us the government, not the politicians. We must remember that this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. We have forgotten the words of Benjamin Franklin when he said, “A republic if you can keep it.” We have relinquished our responsibility to dishonest bureaucrats, political leaders, military leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, justice leaders, medical professionals, and religious leaders who have corrupted every institution.
There was a time when bureaucrats, political leaders, military leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, justice leaders, medical professionals, and religious leaders were restrained by the importance of truth-telling. Today, they lie about significant issues like the condition of our economy, our debt crisis, our energy crisis, the quality of our public education, the quality of our health care system, the quality of our military, the importance of our law-enforcement professionals, the climate, voter fraud, crime, the opioid crisis, and the safety and security of Americans. They may have always lied, but at least the lies were not so blatant, dangerous, and divisive. The lies weren’t so easily spread and elaborated on social media. At least the lies did not give the politician and others more standing among voters. This has changed.
There is no doubt that lying is a complicated concept. Everyone lies for different reasons. However, the lies told today by bureaucrats, political leaders, military leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, justice professionals, medical professionals, and religious leaders are dangerous for the continued success of our nation. This is the threat from within that will destroy America. This is not hyperbole; it is based on historical facts. Many reasons are given for the collapse of civilizations, such as natural catastrophes, war, pestilence, famine, economic collapse, population decline, mass migration, and sabotage or assimilation by rival civilizations.
What drives this to happen is the failure of a value system, the failure of institutions, and the acceptance of immoral behavior of leaders by the people they serve. It is a certain death from within. This surprises and disappoints me because no one is shocked. Regardless of our political party affiliation, we should be outraged, and we should not tolerate it, but we do. Both political parties have cleverly figured out how to get us to fight and hate each other while they govern for their benefit and at our expense. We have grown so accustomed to being lied to that we have lowered our standards and say, “What do we expect from politicians?” We then give up and return to living our lives, hoping that ignoring the problem will go away. Politicians depend on this cynicism to continue to use lies to gain power. I can tell through personal experiences in more than half the countries in the world that dishonest, lying, divisive, self-absorbed political leaders, military leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, justice leaders, medical professionals, and religious leaders have ruined many countries from within.
We better think about where this country is going, how accepting of lying we have become, and what it means to the soul of our nation, our children, our grandchildren, and the world. We are going to suffer the consequences one way or another. Tolerating habitual lying by your political leaders, military leaders, business leaders, educational leaders, justice leaders, medical professionals, and religious leaders is like participating in the lying itself. By ignoring immoral behavior, you have no one to blame but yourself when you get the government you deserve, not the one you need. Lying is stealing from someone. It is equivalent to theft. Telling people lies and stealing the truth is worse than robbing them at gunpoint. Why? Because the person being robbed at gunpoint knows he is being stolen from.
When someone you are supposed to trust lies to you, you are unaware they have stolen the truth from you.
Time moves on. Technology and development will continue to improve our lives. Nothing will matter if we do not rededicate ourselves to our values and principles. Change is constant and necessary, but our values will hold us together and continue to allow us to do the right thing.
This is not about perfection but about achieving excellence and adhering to our values and principles. If we do this, we will always keep faith with each other, ensure the success of our children and grandchildren, and continue to perpetuate the American dream. President Kennedy perfectly described the consequences of the lie: “The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie; deliberate, contrived, and dishonest. But the myth, persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic.” (John F. Kennedy)
Donald C. Bolduc