Do People Really Want to Hear the Truth?

One of the most common myths about politics and politicians is that people just want to be told the truth. Unfortunately, that isn’t the truth. Donald Trump was elected president of the United States and it certainly wasn’t because he tells the truth. On the contrary, he is a compulsive liar. His supporters say they like him because he tells it like it is, when in fact he consistently tells it like it isn’t.

Here in Alberta, former Premier Jim Prentice told voters just before the 2015 election that if they wanted to know why the province was in economic (Read more…) they should just look in the mirror. This was true. After all, Albertans had elected the Conservatives for 44 straight years and they had never dealt with the the boom and bust problem. Nonetheless, that little remark played no small part in his party losing the election.

Justin Trudeau once stated that if we want to deal effectively with global warming, we must eventually transition off tar sands. Just a simple statement of the truth, but a host of Albertans went ballistic. Conservatives will never let him forget it. A good many in this province would prefer to hear that we can produce more and more bitumen indefinitely, and the only problem is that those Eastern bastards won’t help us sell it.

So, what do people really want to hear? Well, of course they want to be told the truth … some of the time. A few may even want to hear it all the time. But most people, much of the time at least, prefer comforting lies. They want to be reassured. And they like to be told their problems are not their fault, but are due to the perfidy of others.

Politicians recognize this and adjust their words to their audience. When this offends us, we might just remind ourselves that it may be the only way they can win. And that’s our fault, not theirs.

I was thinking about all this as I watch the prime minister attempting to dance between building pipelines and confronting global warming. Unfortunately, this issue is so polarized there seems to be only one way to please either side—total capitulation. If there is any truth at all on the other side, they don’t want to hear it.

I don’t envy the poor man.