Truth's silent footsteps

Sandra Baldwin is the latest high-profile American to be caught in a real-life episode of "Truth or Consequences." The first woman president of the US Olympic Committee resigned after it was revealed that some of her shining college credentials were seriously tarnished.

Ms. Baldwin claimed to have graduated from the University of Colorado and then to have earned a doctorate at Arizona State. But after learning that a writer was uncovering the real story, Baldwin admitted that her bachelor's degree was from ASU and that she never finished her dissertation. A golden career suddenly turned into lead.

Baldwin now shares a dubious place in history with such other well-known résumé enhancers as football coach George O'Leary, who fumbled away the top job at Notre Dame last December by making false claims about his collegiate gridiron record and academic achievements. Just this week, Washington, D.C., fire chief Ronnie Few resigned over a bounced résumé.

I'm not qualified to explain what motivates people to lie about their accomplishments, but I get nervous when it happens. Each time someone like George O'Leary or Sandra Baldwin pops into the news, it makes me wonder how many of my assumptions about friends, family, and the world around me might be wrong.

Many of the decisions made by citizens each day are based on information we accept at face value. For example, when I take my car in for an oil change, I assume the technicians are competent because there are framed certificates hanging on the wall to prove that the employees receive some type of specialized training. Or do they?

In my worst nightmare, people who lie on their résumés have taken over society, face value has been abandoned, and nothing is exactly as it seems – sort of like "The X-Files" but without all the aliens. The certificates hanging on walls at those quick oil-change garages are probably forgeries. Sincerity has been replaced by suspicion, and no one seems trustworthy.

It's a lousy scenario, and supporting honesty is the best way to make sure it never comes true. In my own life, that means not making excuses for the achievements that could have been better. Eagle scout? No, I only made it to First Class. Respectable, but definitely not elite. College sports? I survived four lackluster seasons of track and got a letter jacket at the end of senior year, but I honestly think it may have been one the coach ordered for someone else who quit the team.

Thankfully, I've never been inclined to revise these events to make the outcomes more impressive. Lying may put you ahead in the race for a while, but the truth has a pesky habit of catching up and leaving you in the dust without warning.

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