Thoughts by Richard Bleil
Many years ago, when I started working for the police department, my supervisor told me a story, rather proudly at that, about an incident that had occurred. The police cruisers were first come/first choice, and they didn’t track who was driving which vehicle (there’s a good way to treat taxpayer property). The officers, when they take a vehicle, do a quick inspection before going out, or at least are supposed to. One of the officers noticed a yellow paint mark on the bumper of one of the cars and reported it. On closer inspection, the paint mark was actually a paint streak down the entire bottom of the vehicle. It didn’t take long to realize that one of the previous drivers had run over a mile marker, the paint of which streaked the vehicle’s bottom. This is not a major issue; police crash vehicles frequently, and this had no significant damage beyond a little paint. However, it was required that the officer report the incident.
At the next daily meeting, the chief asked the officer involved to admit the incident, privately after the meeting. Nobody did. A week later and several reminders as the meeting still yielded no results. Finally, it was explained that the officer would not be in trouble or fired for the accident, they just needed to know for the report. One of the officers in the room responded, not to the chief but to the other officers, something along the lines of “come on, guys, just speak up.” The meeting droned on, and before the end, that same officer finally confessed that, in fact, it was him.
And they fired him.
My supervisor, still proud of the story, explained that the officer was not fired for running over the sign, but rather was fired for lying about the incident by refusing to admit that he had done it. So, he said, the command staff kept their word, he said, by not firing him for running over the mile marker. But the distinction is subtle, because the officer had been fired nonetheless.
The irony didn’t escape me. They fired the officer by lying by omission by not confessing as soon as they asked, and yet the command staff, and the chief, lied by omitting the fact that the officer would be fired for not speaking up immediately.
The concept of technical honesty is an interesting thing to ponder. Can one be truly honest if indeed omissions are intentionally made, and if the answer is “no”, then are any of us truly honest? Don’t we all have those secrets we would rather not let out into the world, things we have done of which we are mortally ashamed, or habits we don’t want others to know? I’ve tried to be as open and honest in this blog as I can be over the years, and yet, there are things I’ve never, and probably never will bring up. I have to admit, it has been an interesting exercise in honesty for me. One of the very first posts I had published discussed my own sexual fetishes, certainly in terms of safety and protecting my lovers from any form of harm, but by extension I’m sure my readers were aware that this was a topic of interest to me.
It’s kind of an interesting thing, though. When I put things out there, and confess them, I really do feel as if a burden is removed. Whatever it might have been, it’s suddenly a topic that is out there, open for discussion and, yes, even criticism, and anybody who asks about any of them I’m more than happy to discuss. And yet, there are still omissions despite finding that the more I do bring out in the open, the easier it is to do so.
On reading this, there are, I suppose, a few ways to interpret it. Some people will read this as a warning of the treachery of the police in their manipulation of technicalities when dealing with people, and indeed this is the kind of moral ambiguity that adds to distrust of the police. Others will read it as an author’s self-condemnation in admitting that he has committed the sin of lie by omission, even in his own posts, and that certainly wouldn’t be wrong. Hopefully, though, my original intent of encouraging my readers to look within themselves and question their own honesty, especially through lies of omission. It’s certainly easier, sometimes, to simply not say something, especially when you know it will hurt somebody, but those are lies nonetheless, and some of them rather excessively big lies. Consider, for example, a spouse having an affair. Certainly, it’s rare that the spouse would come right out and share this with their partner, especially if they haven’t been caught, and yet nobody would question whether or not it’s a lie to keep the secret hidden. So what lies do we, you and I, keep hidden even if they are not as significant as an affair?