Truthful and Trustworthy
Pollsters and the media pundits keep asking us to evaluate political candidates as being truthful and/or trustworthy. Is there is a difference between being truthful and being trustworthy? What characteristics (or metrics) can we use when we think about saying someone is “truthful” and/or “trustworthy?”
Simply put, persons are truthful if they are honest and speaking the truth. The difficulty is that it is not always easy to determine “what is truth” – or what is not “truth.” Is partialy (or mostly) true sufficient to be truthful? It is difficult, almost impossible to discern when a statement is true. We look for the certainty of facts to determine what is truthful. Absence of supporting facts generally is taken to mean a person is not being truthful. Similarly, when a person alters facts, leaves out important facts, or denies factual evidence, they are not being truthful.
Trustworthy means a person deserves our trust. It is basically the quality of being reliable, dependable and truthful. It means acting and speaking so as to relate facts that are believed to be true. If a person is not always truthful, they cannot be completely trustworthy. In short we judge a person trustworthy if it is possible to count on their statements being truthful. In other words, a person is NOT trustworthy if they are not reliably and consistently truthful.
Unfortunately, there is no absolute scale for measuring how truthful or trustworthy a person might be. However, being truthful and trustworthy are generally seen as foundations for establishing political and social stability. If persons are truthful in what they tell others, they will tend to be believed, the message conveyed is taken as true, and the person trustworthy. But like beauty - these judgments are usually in the mind of the individual
Politifact has created a scale their evaluators (fact checkers) use to rate the truth of statements made by (and about) politicians. On a 5 point scale from “truth” to “pants on fire” false they rate the truthfulness of speeches, written material, and statements made about others:
True or Mostly True 35% 50%
Mostly False or “Pants on Fire” 53% 13%
The message is that “truthful and trustworthy” remain highly subjective assessments relative to the bias and information we have about the candidates in the context of our world. It is clear that in the press of campaign rhetoric, it is not uncommon for candidates to ignore, bend or stretch the truth to make a point. Probably no campaigners (or surrogate) can be judged as wholely truthful – and therefore completely trustworthy. Absolute truth is not relative, but political truth is different.
There are better ways to judge candidates’ suitability for office. Relevant experience must count as an important predictor of likely (not certain) future actions. Ability to use information and data to form good decisions in difficult circumstances is critical. Willingness to communicate openly and act transparently (without hidden or personal agendas) about decisions and action is essential in a 24/7 news cycle. Having a sense of the future and the ability to create a vision of “the way things ought to be” is essential. Understanding that one person is not all powerful and willingness to collaborate must define the candidates preferred working style. Finally, the most important trait is demonstrating a “selflessness” that transcends personal gain with sensitivity to the well-being of others and commitment to fairness and equality of opportunity for all.
How will you judge the suitability of the candidates to meet the complex demands of leading in a democracy lacking in a common set of values in a world full of competing demands?
Marvin Christensen - September 2016