Saturday, September 17, 2011

Panning For Gold: A Plea For Honesty

I believe in honesty. I may not be very good at it. In fact there are times when it is more attractive to me than at other times. Honesty is perhaps the most inconvenient requirement we can lay upon ourselves. Honesty seems so reasonable during those nighttime musings when we can’t get to sleep, but in broad daylight, when it must be paid for with the coin of disadvantage or embarrassment, it appears less reasonable. But I believe in it; believe in it for myself as much as I believe in it for others; believe it is even worth dying for if one can find the courage to do so.

Honesty is a rare commodity in our culture. One must prospect for it as one would pan for gold. It is usually found by turning over the fool's gold of carefully laid words intended to appear to be the truth. Why would one chose to use words that appear to be the truth when a simple turn of the tongue would yield the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? It is the fact that truth telling is almost always costly, requiring the one telling the truth to relinquish something cherished that might be retained by use of a cunningly crafted lie.

I’ve been reading things today that make the issue of honesty particularly pertinent. A politician shades the phrasing of his newsletter to make his opponents appear unreasonable when in reality, if he stated the truth boldly, he would be shown as the one who misrepresented his true intentions. A study published with the apparent purpose of supporting a particular point of view is worded in a fashion that seems to support the desired conclusion despite the fact that its results indicate outcomes contrary to those claimed by the designers of the study. Simply substituting the word “offered” instead of the more accurate “demanded” changes the character of an interaction, making the one “demanding” appear more reasonable than he or she actually is. It is a small dishonesty but it is a dishonesty nonetheless.

How much dishonesty can a society endure? Quite a lot apparently, but not happily, and not without paying a price. Whether in our courts, our government, our media, our churches, or even our personal relationships, a deep skepticism runs beneath all our intercourse. We have learned not to trust. We require written affirmation, often signed and sealed. Only in the rarest of our connections can we have confidence that those with whom we are dealing are truly who and what they claim to be. When I extend my good faith trust I wait anxiously, nonetheless, for a shoe to fall. And I am not alone – admit it.

Is there anything to be done? Like so many of the problems that plague our culture the most obvious solution lies at our own doorstep. We can choose to be honest to the best of our fallen ability. And we can reveal a lie when we know we have encountered one. And we can refuse, to the extent that our situation allows, to support a lie in any form.

None of these actions are easy. Dishonesty is a part of man’s fallen nature and it takes perpetual vigilance, aided, I believe, by God (“So help me God”) to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

It is likewise not easy to confront lies. To do so puts one at odds with one’s culture and often one’s closest colleagues. It is a prophetic role which exacts a price from the “prophet” in the best of circumstances, a martyrdom in the worst cases.

Our culture and economy is so complex that it is almost impossible not to become complicit in some kind of lie but a lover of truth will exercise vigilance and separate himself/herself from every advocacy and action that he/she knows to be dominated by error or that uses lies to its advantage, even in promoting an otherwise good cause.

If even a small cadre of truth lovers would commit themselves to personal truth telling, prophetic revelation of untruth, and diligent refusal to abet those who foist lies upon our culture, we would be richer as a society for the effort. Perhaps not a new “gold rush,” but a steady income of honesty that will make our world morally more prosperous.

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