Monday, October 29, 2012

Savile, Armstrong - Would I lie to you?

It's too late to challenge Jimmy Savile, and Lance Armstrong seems unlikely to recant, so we can only draw our own conclusions about who lied to whom about what. It seems undeniable that iconic public figures such as Jimmy Savile and Lance Armstrong created a web of lies so complex that we may never know the full extent of their duplicity.

We all lie from time to time, whether it's to our children about the tooth fairy, to our friends when they ask us out and we're just too tired, or to our partners when they ask us whether they're looking overweight. We tell ourselves that these lies don't matter, since they are well-meant, and no damage is done.

However, when people tell really big lies, as in the cases of Jimmy Savile or Lance Armstrong, people do get hurt, both physically and emotionally. It's not just the initial liars themselves who must bear the responsibility, since in both cases other people either knew of the misbehaviour, or turned a deaf ear to the rumours and allegations. Now that their actions have become public knowledge, there's a queue of people explaining the reason why they kept quiet at the time. 

Of course, I don't blame any of the abused victims of Jimmy Savile. They have suffered not only from the initial assaults, but from the guilt and fear of disbelief that they have lived with for decades. I do blame those who witnessed such acts and kept silent, or who heard the allegations and did nothing. I also blame the cyclists and team members who acted with Lance Armstrong to maintain a shroud of secrecy over many years of doping.

Yes, it can be hard to speak out when it could threaten your career. It may also be that if you don't have enough evidence, you aren't believed, and the misbehaviour continues. But put yourself in the position of those who knew about abuse or drug use. Would you have kept quiet? I hope not. 

As a speaker myself, and as one who helps others communicate, I talk a lot about authenticity. That's about not only being true to yourself and your principles, but also about being honest. The thing is, it is never the initial lie that brings people down, it's the complex measures undertaken to keep the lie hidden. In the cases of both Jimmy Savile and Lance Armstrong, the effort taken to keep the lid on things was enormous. 

There's no easy way back from a big lie. The only thing to do is not go there in the first place, or stop immediately and try to implement a recovery strategy for everyone involved. I strongly urge the former.

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