Most people think that the 9th commandment states, “Thou shalt not lie.” And while that is a simplification of the command, the actual directive is, “Thou shalt not bear false witness.” The actual wording of the commandment lifts the standard from a prohibition of speaking falsehoods, to a prohibition of validating stories you don’t know to be true. Let me share what I mean.
Several years ago, I was working as the news director for a local radio station when I received a visit from a listener of the station. Through casual conversation, she told me that HEB had agreed to build a grocery store in our community.
Now, over the years I had worked in media in Brownwood and Early, Tex., the biggest desire of the residents was a new, trendy grocery store. HEB has become one of Texas’ folk-hero companies, so they were at the top of the list. The news that HEB would be coming to town would be our top headline, if true.
I asked the lady where she heard the news, she told me that a friend had told her. I asked the friend’s name, got contact info, and contacted the friend to verify. The friend told me that she had heard the local economic development director make the announcement on our competitor.
That was a slap in the face. As news director, I had allowed my department to become the PR wing of the local economic development corporation, expecting to be first in line with such news. For them to give a breaking story like that to my competitor was highly disturbing.
My competitor would not be willing to verify the story, and the economic development director had left town to attend a series of meetings. Meanwhile, social media buzz began to build about the coming of HEB. Everybody heard from somebody that the city had announced the coming of HEB.
I called the local chamber of commerce (which worked hand in hand with the economic development corporation). The director told me that the city has worked to recruit new grocery stores, but no agreement had been made yet, and if it had, my department would be the first to know.
She allowed me to interview her for a story to dispel the rumor that HEB was coming. (I often ran stories to clarify or dispel rumors). The story ran.
After the story ran, I received a call from the economic development director, who asked where all this came from. I told him, someone heard from a friend who heard from a friend that the announcement was made on my competitor. (The competitor denied an announcement was made, and I believe them).
The economic development director was upset, but civil. He explained that rumors being spread like that can cause agreements to bring new retailers to town to fall apart. He explained such had happened in the past.
Little did anyone know, the economic development director was in talks to bring a major grocer to town, and a few short weeks later, the announcement of a new United Supermarket was made. A deal almost lost because someone heard from a friend that something was going to happen.
We think of lying as blatantly trying to deceive, but bearing false witness is also deceptive, and destructive. The reason the commandment was given was that witness testimony was solid evidence in Old Testament courts, and a false witness who was just repeating gossip could cost another man his life.
Today, people aren’t executed over gossip and false witness. However, reputations, careers, businesses, marriages, homes, families and churches are destroyed every day by false witness.
Are you passing along information, something you heard, which may or may not be true? Are you presenting information as being first hand when you really have no direct knowledge? If so, you may be breaking the 9th commandment, and “bearing false witness.”