This man does not look happy. I am watching writer James Frey on the Oprah!
show being publicly flayed for lying in his best-selling memoir,
A Million Little Pieces.
A quick recap of events, in case you missed them: Freys gritty account of his nightmarish odyssey through drug addiction and recovery shot to the top of the best-seller charts last fall and became an Oprahs Book Club selection. This January, it was revealed that Frey had actually fictionalized major elements of the book. Oprah defended him at first, claiming the spirit of the book was genuine, but when it became clear just how fast and loose with the facts Frey had played, she brought him and his publisher Nan Talese onto her show, roughed them up pretty good, and apologized to her millions of viewers. Her emphatic two-word summary: Truth matters.
Indeed. In a recent issue (Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics, May/June 05), I poked a pin in several popular hot-air bubbles, including the frequently cited Harvard study that says only three percent of us write down our goals, and that those three percent have a greater net worth at retirement than the other 97 combined. (No such study exists.)
One reader wrote to me: Do you believe that writing down your goals helps? I sure do. Bottom line for me: the origin of the statements is not important at all. They tell a powerful story that we as writers and speakers can use over and over. Lets say for a moment that they are bogus; what harm has been done? Have you ever made up a story in your speaking to drive home a truth?
No, sir. I do not make up stories to drive home truths, and I hope you dont either. Telling fables of the tortoise-and-the-hare variety is one thing. But when I talk about my companys history or the growth of my network organizationor cite a Harvard studyI damn well better be telling the truth. If Frey had called his book a novel (as did Memoirs of a Geisha author Arthur Golden), well, that would have been another story.
Frey is a talented writer, and its a shame he didnt write the story the way it really happened. It would have been compelling enough on its own merits. The same is true for your business and everything you might say about it, whether on a three-way phone call or from an auditorium stage.
Typically, people embellish the truthor outright lie about itout of insecurity, the sense that the actual facts are somehow not good enough. But the truth about network marketing is compelling enough indeed.
When you stretch, embellish or distort it, my correspondent asks, what harm has been done? But Ill bet he wouldnt want to say that live on Oprah.
JOHN DAVID MANN is Editor in Chief of Networking Times.