by Mike Pyatt
A compelling question, worth consideration, regarding honesty, may be, “Why would anyone rather be dishonest?” In “Gulliver’s Travels,” Jonathon Swift confronts his readers in a “Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.” This race of horse creatures were so rational they found dishonesty incongruous, nearly unintelligible. One explained to Gulliver, “the use of speech was to make us understand one another, and to receive information of facts; now if anyone said the thing which was not, these ends were defeated.” This was the Houyhnhnms locution for shining light on the practice of telling lies. Apparently, our human race, unlike the Houyhnhnms, aren’t fully rational, Swift pointed out.
Most mature adults know we harbor a disparate array of impulses and tendencies that are inimical to reason and honesty. Every act of social intercourse demands people to act in concert with honesty. In “Homer’s Iliad,” Achilles decried the pervasive speed of dishonesty, “I hate that man like the very Gates of Death who says one thing but hides another in his heart.” Genuine disdain for dishonesty is a prerequisite to honesty. It isn’t pliable and flexible as we’ve distorted in daily life. It is being real, genuine, bona fide, upright, authentic, versus fake, feigned or duplicitous. If we were cursed with Pinocchio’s lie-lengthened proboscis, like the nineteenth century Italian tale, by Carlos Lorenzini, we may relent, at least publicly. The wooden puppet was recovering from a bout of having fallen in with the “wrong crowd.” Predictably, for some of us, our nose would rival an elephant’s trunk.
It’s easy to point one’s long bony finger at those whom we deem more dishonest than ourselves. Our favorite targets are politicians. More often than not, politics focuses on a desired outcome, ignoring honesty. Bill Bennett said honesty is best cultivated, “Like most virtues, it is best developed and exercised in harmony with others. The more it is exercised, the more it becomes a settled disposition.” His point: take it seriously. We do so when approaching our daily physical exercise regimen. The too familiar bromide, “Honesty is the best policy,” is woefully inadequate when absolutes reigned. Parents are often knavish by warning their offspring, “Don’t let me catch you doing that again.” The savvy little cookie grabber translates that message, “I should avoid getting caught.” We’re reminded that moral development isn’t a game of “Catch me if you can.” Rather indefatigable inculcation. Half-heartedness won’t work. Kids smell it like freshly baked cookies.
History is long regarding parents reading bed-time stories to their children-a tradition that may render eternal dividends. Stories with moral underpinnings designed to reach one’s inner core. Even if one must download it to the i-Phone, it’s possible. While it sounds counter intuitive to this culture, Aesop’s fables undisputedly underscore upright character. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” final line is still relevant, “That is the kind of thing that happens to people who lie: even when they do tell the truth they will not be believed.” The serial liar has written a script that’s hard to revise. An obscure folktale, “Someone Sees You,” reminds us that the act of dishonesty is never truly hidden. A thievish father plotted to “sneak into his neighbor’s field and steal some wheat.” He not only purloined his neighbor, but implicated his youngest daughter in the act. He told her, “you must stand guard, and call out if anyone sees me. Fortunately her internal compass pointed in the right direction. Four times she cried out, “Father, someone sees you.” The scheming father didn’t understand. The final line, thrust a dagger into the heart of his duplicity, “Father,” murmured the child, “Someone sees you from above.” A Biblical Truth from the lips of a child is forever contemporary. It’s not abstruse.
The confluence of the Old and New Testament is a unrelenting torrent of truth and honesty. It also reveals the outcome of those choosing another path, and the disastrous outcome, when that path excludes genuine repentance. The Book of Amos chronicles Israel’s growing callousness to God’s disciplining hand. Famine, drought, death, destruction and plagues-yet nothing forced them to their recalcitrant knees, and repentance. Like a basket of rotting fruit, his people stood ripe for judgment. Dishonesty, hypocrisy and injustice reigned. God’s oracle, Amos, a promoted sheepherder, reminded them of the outcome. God asked, “Did I not bring up Israel from the land of Egypt.” The story of Israel’s forty year wandering in Exodus is compelling to young curious, developing minds. Parents learn too. A great gig for grandparents. The Brothers Grimm moral of the “The Frog Prince,” is the king’s conscience, “That which thou hast promised must thou perform.” Kids raptly absorb the story line of an ugly, speaking frog, who in the end, as he fell to the ground, turned at once into a charming prince. Transformed by honesty.
Nowhere is honesty more on display than Hans Christian Andersen’s, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” We see the pestilence of feigned flattery, and that honesty, unlike new clothing, is always in vogue. Called out by a child, the Emperor was foolishly determined, though his intuition was the people were right. “I must face this out to the end and go on with the procession,” he said, continuing undaunted, “So he held himself more stiffly than ever, and the chamberlains held up the train that was not there.” Dishonesty corrupts not only the perpetrator, but spreads like a plague to those roundabout, when one’s authority influences others to advance that charade.
Pathological liars fool a polygraph. Prevaricators once possessed the capacity for honesty. The youngest daughter was right, “Someone sees you from above.” We all fall short. It takes a Savior bigger than our universally stained nature. Whether it’s swaying a political crowd with soaring rhetoric, or whispering in someone’s ear, be honest. Dishonesty defeats the outcome of understanding. Sadly, honesty has been supplanted by moral relativism, as an incidental byproduct of expediency. What do you think?
Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s firstname.lastname@example.org