Remember the last time you were pulled over for speeding and the officer said, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Or maybe it was, “Have you been drinking?”

Did you answer honestly? Probably not.

While it can be a crime to make false statements to the police, it’s not likely to land you in jail. Nor does it make you a bad person. We’ve all been there.

The important question is, how did it make you feel? Probably a little like when you lied to your parents or teachers as a kid. Uncomfortable. Guilty. Like you shrunk a foot or two. That’s the reaction most people would have. If not, look out below; it’s a slippery slope on the way to Clintontown (or Trumpville, depending on your point of view).

Whichever way you lean, you’ve got to admit that lying has become something of an art form, and not just in politics, in business too. Maybe that’s why lying is quickly becoming an accepted societal norm.

The question is why? Why do those in power lie? Why is it becoming socially acceptable? And is there a connection between the two?

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A cynic might say they do it because they know they can get away with it, or that they possess “a certain morale flexibility,” to quote John Cusack’s assassin character in Grosse Pointe Blank.

While there is truth to that, lying is less about thinking and more about learned behavior. From the day we realize that crying brings parental attention, the die is cast. After that, it really depends on whether bad behavior is reinforced by coddling parents, teachers and bosses or not.

At some point in the great game of trial and error that is life, we all try our hand at lying. If we get caught and get our hand slapped, we learn our lesson. If not – worse still, if good things come of it – that behavior is reinforced. And so on, all the way to the c-suite or even the oval office.

Now here’s the really bad news. We live in the golden age of coddling known as political correctness. The growing trend to level the playing field and avoid singling anyone out for bad behavior has created a laundry list of consequences that nobody wants to have to deal with.

If a minority, a woman or an illegal alien does something bad, we’re increasingly unwilling to call them out on it for fear of being labeled a racist, misogynist or xenophobe.

The other day, a conservative woman told me that she often lies about her political views because everyone around her in the Bay Area expresses their liberal views – the societal norm – so openly and forcefully that she doesn’t want to make waves, especially not with customers and coworkers.

I hear similar stories of growing pressure to conform to cultural norms in public schools, universities and workplaces. The same is true on social media. And make no mistake, the same thing is happening in business.

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The first time I heard a senior executive outright lie in the boardroom of a public company, I remember thinking, “The gall of that guy!” There were no consequences. The second time he did it, I thought, “He must be a narcissist, psychopath or some other form of behavioral misfit.” Still, no consequences. The third time, I was numb to it.

That’s a powerful metaphor for what’s happening throughout our society. By failing to reinforce honest behavior and hold people accountable for dishonesty — whether the reason is political correctness or not — we are undermining the very integrity of our culture. And it’s becoming so pervasive that we’re all becoming numb to it.

Image credit Lord Jim via Flickr

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