The Value of Honesty

As children do in general, when I was a small child, I lied to my parents when I got caught doing something I shouldn’t have, or not doing something I should have.  The reason why lying is so popular among children is that it is their attempt to keep out of trouble and avoid punishment.

After a while, as children mature, they learn that lying is worse than the dumb thing they did (like eat all the potato chips before their parents’ party started), because it hurts the relationship by destroying trust.  In addition, lying brought consequences – dire consequences in the old days (spankings) and stupid consequences in the present (loss of cell phone privileges for a few days), or none at all (when parents are just too busy).Nonetheless, the value of honesty (as demanded in the commandment not to bear false witness) has been a cornerstone in this country’s value system about measuring character in individuals.

We already have way too many “role models” who actually make superficial lifestyles, drugs, casual sex, and domestic violence attractive to our children, making it harder and harder to tell them “That’s wrong to do, and if you do it, you will be publicly embarrassed, and your life will get off track.”  There isn’t much in society to back that statement up anymore.

I am soooooo glad I don’t have a young child at home anymore.  Sitting at breakfast last week, watching the so-called news, I looked up to see Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd say (and I paraphrase) that the line in the federal stimulus bill which would have given over $100 million in bonuses to AIG executives – the ones responsible for the company’s demise – if they were promised before February 11th, was nothing he knew about.  “When I left work after writing that part of the bill…that sentence wasn’t there.”

I sat there “chewing” on his statement, wondering what gremlin snuck into his office and typed that sentence while he was home in the bosom of his family.  My question was answered within seconds as a second news clip was shown with him admitting the HE was the gremlin, but then he threw the White House under the bus with, “They made me do it.”

Now I am mortified.  “I didn’t have sex with that woman,” and “I didn’t’ write the sentence that stole money from Americans to give bonuses to high-ranking losers” have entered the ranks of the story about George Washington admitting to his dad that he cut down the cherry tree.

I could see my kid right now…”Ah, mommy, what’s the story here?”  You said lying was bad, and bad things would come of it, like at least looking bad, but he’s still going to be a Senator tomorrow.”

Millions of you out there have children who saw what I saw.  What are you going to say to them about corruption at the highest levels that ultimately gets just a “wink and a nod?”  What about all those courses in school where “character matters?”  Where does it matter in public anymore?  Some of you can fall back on “God knows, and for all eternity, it WILL make a difference.”  I like that a lot, except children don’t think long-term, nor do they dwell on the importance of what they can’t see.

Asian countries have it right – they threaten people with the anger and shame of their ancestors.  America has it wrong.  It would seem to children that the only really important quality needed to become a public figure is to not give a damn about right and wrong or what people think, or that a lie is anything but an expedient tool with no meaningful consequences.

Oh, yeah, the White House is acting all outraged about the AIG bonuses at the same time it is apparently the source of the benevolent donation to the failed executive fund of AIG.  Is this what they mean by the “trickle down” theory?

Were I to have a child by my side this morning, I would say:  “Beloved child, when you read history books (and not the purged ones you get at school, but real history books), you will see that success and honesty are not necessarily bed partners.  Nonetheless, never do anything you would be ashamed to have your kids know you did or have them do.  I would rather you lost everything you worked for, rather than lose your soul.”  I figure the more you tell kids this from the day they’re born to the day you die, we’ll have some people in this life we can trust.