Truth is hard to find

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The name Diogenes has drifted down through the centuries to become synonymous with an honest man. The strange thing is that Diogenes never claimed to be an honest man, he simply wandered the streets of ancient Athens, with lantern in hand, asking everyone he met, &uot;Be thou an honest man?&uot;

Some historians even believe that his search was prompted by a desire to vindicate himself and his father of an accusation of embezzling money from the Corinthian mint. No matter what his motivation was, history does not record if Diogenes was successful in his search. I’d bet that he was still asking that question as he breathed his last breath.

I have wondered since childhood, why honesty is such a difficult virtue to practice. I knew that even people with reputations for honesty had their moments of deceit.

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My grandmother was the most honest person I knew. Once, when a friend asked her how she looked in a newly-bought brown dress, Grandma told her she looked like the back end of a fat cow.

No euphemism would do for Grandma. She told it like it was. Until it came to revealing her age.

I distinctly remember her being 59 three years in a row.

When she died, no one in the family knew how old she really was. We decided she wouldn’t want that information published anyway, so we left that piece of apocrypha out of her obituary. We got calls from friends and relatives reminding us of that omission and asking what her real age was.

We could honestly say we did not know. Years of uncertainty had obscured the truth.

The point is that human beings search for honesty. They want to know the straight story. There is no place where that expectation is thwarted more than in the arena of national politics. The public has to sort through piles of double-speak and obfuscation to find a nugget of truth.

The latest political sleight of tongue has to do with the question of Karl Rove’s involvement in revealing the identity of a CIA agent. She just happened to be the wife of a political official who openly questioned President’s Bush’s honesty in appraising the threat of African sale of nuclear material. The president’s initial tough talk about bringing the culprit who leaked that information and endangered the agent’s life to justice is now becoming as obscured as Grandma’s age. It is time for honest action.

If Rove leaked that information, he does not need to remain in a position of public trust.

We need to hold elected and appointed officials at all levels to a standard of honesty that meets public scrutiny.

We need to have an army following in Diogenes’ footsteps, lantern in hand, asking, &uot;Be thou an honest man?&uot;

Fortunately we do.

It is called the press.

Beverly Outlaw lives in Suffolk and is a regular News-Herald columnist. She can be reached at