The Rise and Fall of Truthfulness

I have had a sinking feeling that truth and truthfulness have taken a battering over the last few years. Trump talked about ‘fake news’ to cover up his own lies, anti-vaxers pursued unproven and unscientific truths to further their cause, and governments in Australia (in particular the NSW and Federal governments) have lacked transparency, accountability and even honesty. Perhaps the most spectacular lies have come from the mouth of Putin justifying the Russian offensive in Ukraine, and denying atrocities, restricting media and manipulating statistics of casualties. He has even insisted that the operation must not be termed ‘war’ by media or citizens. Putin is not the only one with a flexible interpretation of events and history. I read somewhere that the Australian PM has lied (allegedly) about 100 times since he took office. Every day his ratings fall which indicates that this is not ‘culturally ok’ with Australians, and even some of his fellow MP’s.

“The recent drop (in the Corruption Performance Indicator) is due largely to the failure to keep a promise made prior to the last election. The failure to reform Australia’s foreign bribery laws and take greater action to regulate lobbying, donations, and the revolving door between big business and politics were also cited by Transparency International, as were lax financial regulations, which allowed Australia to be used as a launching pad for corruption in the region”.

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“Australia’s performance in the CPI has continually declined in the past decade, dropping by 12 points”. (The Guardian Christopher Knaus Tue 25 Jan 2022 16.01 AED)


The top countries on the CPI are Denmark and New Zealand, with scores of 88, followed by Finland, Singapore, Sweden and Switzerland, with scores of 85 each. Australia scored 77 points out of 100 on the 2018 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International. Corruption Index in Australia averaged 84.78 Points from 1995 until 2018, reaching an all time high of 88.60 Points in 1997 and a record low of 77 Points in 2017. Sep 8 2019

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“The question about truth and truthfulness is complex. Different cultures have different appetites for different types of ‘dishonesty’. Reactive cultures (mostly East and South-east Asia) might restrict the truth to protect harmony. In Australia, which is a Linear Active culture, truth is expected and it will probably be based on evidence, science, research and data.”

The diagram below (Richard D Lewis) shows the various contexts where truth the unadulterated truth may need to be edited. Context appears to determine the level of flexibility in using truthfulness. The take-away lesson here is to be prepared for variations in aspects of truth, and also to consider the possibility that hardcore truth may not be best practice outside Linear Active countries. Think also about the need to modify the way you deliver information. This short article is not a lesson in dishonesty, but a lesson in the need to modify content, tone and style according to your audience.

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My mother used to say ‘that if you can’t say something nice, then don’t say it at all’. This is an example of what Lewis terms the ‘economy’ of truth, common in the UK. Think about the simple question, “How are you?” The safest answer is “Fine thanks – and you?” In this case, delivering a fully informed and truthful response about your health and life might be unwise. The function, and setting of the interaction is critical.

The Lewis Model gives clarity of broadly defined cultural characteristics, including the dimension about truth versus harmony, high and low context.

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To find out more about what this might mean for you in various workplace and social contexts, get in touch. Your ability to communicate facts with an appropriate directness may determine your likeability, and the quality of your partnerships with people from other cultures. A failure to communicate hard truths appropriately can be costly. Scott Morrison’s critique of China’s Covid19 response caused great offence, and resulted in costly tariffs on exports because of this.

Bruce Bevan 0401743399

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