Craig Dearden-Phillips: We can learn from Lance Armstrong that we all lie, but there has to be a limit

Most charities probably embellish a bit in order to achieve more, writes our columnist

Craig Dearden-Phillips
Craig Dearden-Phillips

Like some of you, I ride a bike at the weekend. Off I go on Sunday mornings with a bunch of middle-aged men in Lycra looking, if not riding, like the professional cyclists we all wish we were. Until Bradley Wiggins, the one we all loved most was Lance. That's Lance Armstrong, the seven times Tour de France winner who recently confessed to Oprah Winfrey that he'd been lying for years about using banned substances. Of course, everyone knew that Tour de France riders were, until quite recently, fuelled by far more than bread and water. Lying about this had, over time, become, well, totally normal.

Where am I going with this? Well, Lance Armstrong's exposure has made me think about how most of us lie - and go along with others' lies - if we feel we have to. Let's face it, to lie is deeply human. We do it because it's often the easiest or kindest thing to do. Most of us keep our fibbing to half-truths, omissions and white lies of the "no, you look amazing!" variety. Indeed, living well doesn't mean never lying. Rather, it is to be very mindful indeed about how far it is OK to move from the truth.

What about charities and lying? Interestingly, Lance Armstrong used his charity - Livestrong - to support his lying. He could then lie for something bigger than himself, which probably helped him hold out for so long.

In reality, I think most charities embellish a bit - mostly in order to achieve more good. Complexities are simplified, problems are kept quiet, impact is routinely talked up. But sometimes it goes further. Fictions are created. Donors are misinformed. Claims are made that will not be met: poverty as history, the end of all child abuse - the list goes on.

But surely it's all right to say this stuff - isn't it? We have to get the money in somehow, after all. My question, readers, is whether stretching the elastic of truth this far is actually doing us any good. Will charities continue to attract ever more money when the truth finally sinks in that we can't solve all these problems after all? That not even a billion direct debits will solve certain, deeply complex problems? I recoiled long ago. I now give my donations to ordinary people - local social entrepreneurs doing things from the ground up. How long, in this information age, before others choose to avoid the bullshit and do the same?

When I watched Lance confess to Oprah, I saw a guy whose biggest mistake had been to let his relationship with truth get contorted to a point where he couldn't see how low he had sunk. As I said, to lie is to be human. To lie too often and too big is to lose your humanity. With charities, the same rules apply. Of course, there are messages we have to convey, things we must say - and not say. But there are also lines that we should not cross. My learning was to make sure I learned from Lance. What's yours?

Contact Craig, who writes in a personal capacity, at www.stepping-out.biz

Craig Dearden-Phillips is managing director of Stepping Out and a Liberal Democrat councillor in Suffolk

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