– Zach Ricks
I remember growing up, I would occasionally hear the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. “I cannot tell a lie,” said the young George. “I cut it with my little hatchet.” I know that the story has been discredited. I realize that some people may have an issue with bringing this story into a discussion of honesty. But before you write it off I want to point out something. This story taught the value of honesty, regardless of what it might cost you personally. The lesson it teaches is worthwhile. And luckily, it’s not the only example of great honesty that we have to turn to. How long has it been since we reminded each other of Abraham Lincoln – “Honest Abe” – closing his store and returning a few pennies if he accidentally miscounted someone’s change? How long has it been since we as a society – since we as individuals – expected that of people? How long has it been since we’ve held it up as a worthwhile example? How long has it been since we’ve had it from our public servants? How long has it been since we’ve demanded it of ourselves?
Regardless of the actions of others, each of us has a responsibility to be honest. This is usually summed up in the ten commandments as “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness Against Thy Neighbor”. (Exodus 20:16) And, indeed, we see a lot of bearing of false witness against our neighbors. (As for who your neighbor is, I would direct you to Luke 10:29-37). That’s the ideal. But today in our culture, we have people egging a tea party express bus, and then accusing Andrew Breitbart of being the culprit. And we have people trying to infiltrate the Tea Parties in an effort to discredit them with allegations of hatred and racism.
George Washington once said “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” That’s the ideal. And yet a few years ago, we had a President say that he wasn’t lying because “It depends on what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.”.
Abraham Lincoln would shut his store and walk miles over a few pennies if he’d miscounted someone’s change. Compare that to the news of a few days ago, as the SEC brought civil charges against Goldman Sachs for fraud.
Trust of the government is at an all time low. We have the sense that our elected officials will do or say anything to get re-elected. This is a toxic environment for a republic. But it can be repaired. If we are honest in our dealings with our fellow men, we can and will disagree with them. But if we do so as honest brokers, then I believe can differ without rancor. If we assume that the other person comes by their views honestly and insist that they give us the same benefit, then despite our differences we can disagree while maintaining a level of respect for our political adversaries. And with that honesty and respect, we can build trust. If we’re to regain that trust – if the government is to be worthy of that trust, we must find and elect just and honorable men (and women).
We cannot expect honesty from others if we are unwilling or unable to exercise it in our own lives. Indeed, expecting honesty from others when we are not honest ourselves hurts our own reputation, and forces others to wonder if we will actually follow through on our obligations this time, when we’ve proven to be untrustworthy in the past. Let’s change. If we have been less than forthright, let’s make the commitment to be honest. Let’s act with integrity. And as we do so, we will lay a foundation upon which we and others can rely. We will build trust which is so lacking in our private lives and public institutions. And we will be worthy of the liberty which we have been given by God, and by the sacrifices of our forefathers.