Truth Be Told

Rendition of a young George Washington and his father after chopping down a cherry tree on the family farm.

“Father, I Can Not Tell a Lie: I Cut the Tree” engraving by John C. McRae (image source:

When I was a kid growing up in Far Rockaway, I was inquisitive, or so I’m told. Even in my stroller days I would ask each person who stopped to chat: “Who you?” One gentleman had the audacity to say he was George Washington, to which I replied: “Aren’t you dead?” I remember that story as a beacon because we were taught to revere our first president not for all his bravery, but for always telling the truth. We were told that he chopped down a cherry tree, as ridiculous as that sounds, and when asked about it he owned up to it, saying: “I cannot tell a lie.” You might say that was the gold standard for behavior. This story was so ingrained in us kids that in art class we all drew hatchets and cherry trees to celebrate him. Well, George Washington really is dead and so are many of the principles he embodied, including the strict adherence to truth. There were no alternative facts. In today’s world, we have allowed the normalization of lies, and it has been to our peril. How we go forward now to restore truth and dignity in our civic dialogue is in question. And, while it is the sworn oath of all of our presidents, it is really up to all of us to elevate truth-telling to it rightful honor. If George could do it, we can too.