Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

The Honest Man

May 23rd, 2017 by G.

More and more, honesty is not a virtue our society prizes but fails to live.  More and more, it is a virtue that we reject as for dupes.  And more and more, it is.

What I failed to realize when I was younger is that honesty is a societal virtue.  It is a virtue whose purpose and sense is in relation to society at large.

Here is President Hinckley:

Fortunately there are still those who observe such principles of personal rectitude. Recently we rode a train from Osaka to Nagoya, Japan. At the station were friends to greet us, and in the excitement my wife left her purse on the train. We called the Tokyo station to report it. When the train arrived at its destination some three hours later, the railroad telephoned to say the purse was there. We were not returning via Tokyo, and more than a month passed before it was delivered to us in Salt Lake City. Everything left in the purse was there when it was returned.

Such experiences, I fear, are becoming increasingly rare. In our childhood we were told the stories of George Washington’s confessing to chopping down the cherry tree and Abraham Lincoln’s walking a great distance to return a small coin to its rightful owner. But clever debunkers in their unrighteous zeal have destroyed faith in such honesty; the media in all too many cases have paraded before us a veritable procession of deception in its many ugly forms.

What was once controlled by the moral and ethical standards of the people, we now seek to handle by public law. And so the statutes multiply, enforcement agencies consume ever-increasing billions, prison facilities are constantly expanded, but the torrent of dishonesty pours on and grows in volume.

Clever debunkers and the regulatory-criminal complex have grown and grown, and honesty has gone small.

Although honesty only makes sense as a virtue in a society where people recognize and respond to it, it is still a virtue we should cultivate.  Honesty is a token pointing to a better world.

To those within the sound of my voice who are living this principle, the Lord bless you. Yours is the precious right to hold your heads in the sunlight of truth, unashamed before any man.

Other Posts from the April 1976 General Conference, Sunday morning session

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  • Comments (10)
    Filed under: Deseret Review | Tags: ,
    May 23rd, 2017 07:30:10

    May 23, 2017

    Thanks, G.
    More and more, I see the necessity of a Spiritual Awakening. I can almost, but not quite, express it in secular terms, the need has become so great.

    Bruce Charlton
    May 23, 2017

    This is a bit of a ‘hobby horse’ theme for me – my book Not Even Trying was mainly about the astonishing decline of honesty in science in the space of just a couple of decades. Dishonest science (as now) just isn’t science – and it does not work; but the fact is covered by further dishonesty.

    Honesty lasted a bit longer in science than in general culture – but in the late sixties the commuter village I lived in (seven miles outside Bristol) was amazingly honest:

    Bicycles had no locks, and I left mine outside the village shop for two days by accident, and when I remembered and went back it was still there – leaning against the wall! We didn’t lock the back door of our house, even when we went on holiday. The key was left in the car parked on the drive.

    But by the middle-late seventies all bikes had to be locked, and people would break locks to steal them. By the eighties all cars and houses had alarms.

    But the social expediency of honesty is inadequate to make it happen – since the proximate, immediate, definite and personal expediency of dishonesty is a more powerful motivator than the distal, delayed, contingent, and generalised benefits.

    So honesty must be based on conviction – and indeed only really Christianiity has had an ideal ethic of generalised honesty (embracing even the out-group).

    Gentle Practicality
    May 23, 2017

    […] The Honest Man by G […]

    May 24, 2017

    Honesty must be courageous. CS Lewis said, “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” Too often people forget that crucial element of every virtue.

    People often ask, “What about the Nazi at your door asking if you are hiding Jews in the closet? Is it right to be honest?” As if telling the Nazi there are Jews in the closet doesn’t convey that you are okay with Nazis destroying the lives of innocent people. You cannot let the bad guys frame the discussion and expect honesty to be the result.

    Does that mean you lie to the Nazi? I think that’s better than letting the Nazi drag off innocents, but it’s not the best. Courageous honesty would be to answer: “I will not help you destroy the lives of innocent people.” Sure, this places you in danger, and probably requires you to have a physical fight with someone armed and dangerous, even to be dragged off yourself. But that’s what true honesty requires.

    I think Captain Moroni is a great example of someone who didn’t allow bad guys to frame moral dilemmas that would preclude him from doing the honest and courageous thing. Risking personal loss in honoring what is good and true.

    But the fact is that most people cannot effectively stand up for what is true because they don’t want to risk whatever other goods may be placed in jeopardy. The movie “High Noon” is an excellent example of this. In the end, most people choose false and temporary peace over openly fighting with bad guys. But every other ‘good’, when subordinated by cowardice, loses it’s power to make us lastingly free and happy.

    JRL in AZ
    May 24, 2017

    “You cannot let the bad guys frame the discussion and expect honesty to be the result.”
    Yes and yes! I love your comments, and this one is excellent.

    May 24, 2017

    The Jewish doctors confronted the Gestapo-at-your-door dilemma over two thousand years ago, and concluded that honesty is subordinate to reverence for innocent blood.

    And I note that Mormon fell all over himself apologizing for Captain Moroni using a strategem — that is, being “dishonest” on the battlefield in order to save the lives of his people.

    Yes, such dishonesty would never be necessary in a world without killers. That’s not the world we live in.

    And the Jewish doctors concluded there was precious little else than protecting innocent life that would justify dishonesty.

    May 24, 2017

    The point about courage also means it is important to stand up for honesty, or rather, enforce it as well as you can. Many ‘honest’ people simply refuse to take responsibility for enlarging the virtue.

    This CSLewisDoodle video is very good on this point. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IE4oZ6F-gQM (It’s an illustration of an article by C.S. Lewis published in 1945)

    Part of the point is that almost no one is willing to punish liars by excluding them from polite society, because that would be detrimental to their social status as ‘good Christians’. Indeed, many will trumpet their association with liars as proof that they do not have a self-righteous superiority complex, that they are more like Jesus who “hung out with sinners”.

    When you effectively never punish dishonesty on a personal level, you cannot really be said to value honesty at all, even if you personally ‘never lie’. As indicated by President Hinckley, this cannot be left to government regulation. Individuals are going to have to take personal risks to stand up against dishonesty in their day-to-day affairs.

    May 24, 2017

    After reading Bruce’s comment:

    I remember seeing a documentary on Chinese migrant workers in Japan.

    They interviewed a group of them and part of the conversation went something like this:

    “It is hilarious. You can tell any shopkeeper here that you just need to borrow the item and he will believe you. Or just tell him you will pay tomorrow. They are really stupid. (laughter all round).”


    I feel like we’re on the precipice. Ready to fall either way. It is nerve-wracking.

    May 24, 2017

    This may be slightly off topic, but…

    I find it verrrry interesting that President Hinckley uses the enthusiastic debunking of Parson Weems’ story about George Washington and the cherry tree as an example of destroying faith in honesty. From an objective standpoint, those who say the story is made up are telling the truth, and Parson Weems told a lie. But President Hinckley isn’t criticizing the objective truth of the revisionists, but rather their subjective intent to destroy faith in honesty and in great men like Washington.

    Last year my wife and I went on a cruise, and were dining with some other passengers. It came out that part of my job includes criminal prosecution. Everyone at the table desperately wanted to know what I thought about the Netflix show, “Making a Murderer.” (What would people talk about without TV?)

    “I haven’t seen it,” I said.

    “WHAT!!?!? Why not?”

    “Not interested.”

    “How could you not be interested when that’s what you do for a living? It’s an unbelievable story.”

    “Look, I take it that it’s about a guy that was convicted of murder, and the show marshals a bunch of evidence to show that he was wrongfully convicted, right?”

    “Well, two guys, but yes.”

    “I already know that, in a country of 300 million people, some people are wrongfully convicted. Why should I be surprised or amazed that a film crew was able to find one such case? And that’s assuming that he really is innocent. At least in a criminal trial there are two sides presented, but this is just TV. Who knows what the other side of the story is?”

    “Yes, but don’t you think it’s important to draw attention to the cases where the system doesn’t work?”

    “Of course, and I don’t begrudge the filmmakers their efforts to free a man they believe is innocent. But the disproportionate sensationalism around every ambiguous criminal case distorts public perception. People get the idea that this sort of thing happens all the time, when in fact such cases are statistically negligible compared to the number of people who did exactly what they convicted of. And of course I’m biased as well, but I just see no need to participate personally in that ritual.”

    So often, the distortion of the truth comes not in telling lies, but in suppressing the larger truths to tell the minor ones.

    May 24, 2017

    [The conversation above is transcribed from memory. If you’re thinking, “I doubt he put it precisely that way,” you are almost certainly right.]

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