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How Do We Rebuild Trust in a Post-Truth World?





The Oxford Dictionary added the term post-truth to its list of new words for 2016. It is described as verbiage that appeals to emotion, rather than fact; meant to convince people that something is so, if it sounds like it could potentially be so. False news is making headlines at an alarming rate. One sad statement that has been accepted as long as people have been running for office, is that “politicians lie.”  The more outrageous the lie, the more some listeners, readers or viewers are willing to accept it as fact. Perhaps those who perpetuate the fabrications have themselves convinced that they are indeed true. Although some might fit into the category of Pathological Liar, more often, the actions are primarily for immediate gain.

Angie Drobnic Holan of the website Politifact offered this take: “Creators of fake news found that they could capture so much interest that they could make money off fake news through automated advertising that rewards high traffic to their sites. A man running a string of fake news sites from the Los Angeles suburbs told NPR he made between $10,000 and $30,000 a month.  A computer science student in the former Soviet republic of Georgia told the New York Times that creating a new website and filling it with both real stories and fake news that flattered Trump was a “gold mine.”

I had been listening to NPR and heard a young man in Macedonia who had no particular political affiliation brag about using his writing skills to create outrageous stories for exorbitant sums of money. No conscience quelled his actions. There was no thought of the impact of the tales he wove.

Political commentator, Stephen Colbert introduced the concept of truthiness in 2005, perhaps little realizing how prescient it was. While we may laugh at the segment on the Colbert Report, it speaks volumes about the state of affairs that exists  11 years later.

When did conscience become expendible?

As a child, I was reminded about the importance of truth-telling. My parents always knew if I was lying. The joke was, that when I was caught (and I don’t even recall all these years later what I had fibbed about), I would say with a give-away look on my face, “Honest I didn’t.”  Not sure how I learned to cross my fingers behind my back as a ‘pass’ so that untruths didn’t count. I might have seen it on a cartoon and figured if the characters could get away with it, I could too.

When my son was young and he would lie about something he had done, my ‘spidey sense’ would buzz and I would suggest that we play a game that I called video camera truth by which I would call him on his stuff. It didn’t take long for him to admit what had transpired. We could then get down to the nitty gritty; what it was that had him dissembling. Usually, it was that he wanted to do something that he thought he wouldn’t be permitted to do, so he would be what we would refer to as ‘sneaky’.  I reminded him that he would always be caught, so it would be a better use of his creativity to ‘do the right thing’.  For this parent, helping my child cultivate conscience is an important value. One of my intentions for him was that he be ‘a man of integrity’.  He is now a happy, successful and honest adult.

According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, children and adults lie for similar reasons: to get out of trouble, for personal gain, to impress or protect someone, or to be polite.

Politicians may very well be children in adult bodies who desire to convince constituents that their take on the world is preferable and they will utlilize their charisma and communication skills to dissemble.

A British survey shows the average person tells four lies a day, or 1,460 a year for a total of 88,000 by the age of 60, and the most common is: “I’m fine.”

You can’t make this stuff up….or can you?

Sometimes fiction is more fascinating than truth as is explored in the 2009 film The Invention of Lying, starring Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner. He plays an unsuccessful screenwriter living in a world in which people always tell the truth, to the point of being brutally honest. Motivated by financial need, he tells the first lie in the history of the world. He initially uses this newfound skill for personal gain and then for altruistic purposes.

Spiritual teacher and author, don Miguel Ruiz formulated the Four Agreements, which is a good guide for life in general, and speaks specifically about the importance of truth-telling. He contends that as children, we take on the presented ‘reality’ of the adults around us. If they speak from their own limiting beliefs and attempt to cast them on us, we often accept them as valid.

They are as follows:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.
  2. Don’t take anything personally.
  3. Don’t make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

The first is the most important one to address for our purposes. Ruiz describes it in this way:  “Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the Word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your Word in the direction of truth and love.”

What if world leaders were given a copy of this tiny but mighty book even prior to their first day in office?

The first would keep them honest, so that at the end of the day, they could look at the person in the mirror and know that they told the truth and not some distorted version.

The second would help them keep ego in check.  Often, it is in attempt to protect image and facade that induces people to lie.

The third would have them asking questions and really listening; not to retort, but to understand the perspective of another. When we make assumptions, we believe that this is truth and act in ways based on distortions.

The fourth would encourage them to put their heart and soul into their job. As long as people are ‘all in,’ there is no need to create a false perception of reality.

Ilanna Sharon Mandel, M.A.,  a Canadian author, activist, photographer and journalist, suggests: “Don’t buy into propaganda, don’t allow the suppression of the truth, don’t give in to panic and hate, don’t normalize the suppression of cruelty and bigotry.”

Be an informed consumer of information, without swallowing what you are fed in one gulp. Check out legitimate news sources, rather than believing what is read on social media or overtly biased sites or broadcasts. Use discernment. Google Trends indicates a steep upswing in fact checking in the past year. Don’t perpetuate rumor and innuendo. There are farcical news sites, like The Onion that are purely ‘inftotainment’ and not to be taken seriously.

Believing the words of spin doctors can make you dizzy.





How Do We Rebuild Trust in a Post-Truth World?

Edie Weinstein, MSW, LSW

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APA Reference
Weinstein, E. (2019). How Do We Rebuild Trust in a Post-Truth World?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 7, 2020, from


Last updated: 19 Mar 2019
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