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Classics On Honesty

Classics On Honesty

Mike Pyatt

For decades various groups have lectured us regarding the necessity to have “an honest conversation about race.” What would that look like? Does it mean ridding our nation of statues, symbols, buildings and flags that offends someone? Would it include reparations for millions of black Americans? In the wake of George Floyd’s killing, with the looting and pillaging ongoing in Minneapolis, did meaningful dialogue occur? A major impediment to an honest conversation on race is fear. Fear of being cudgeled by the cancel culture in the midst of toxic rage. Do they want objective honesty regarding history on slavery? Or Woke interpretation? Morgan Freeman, when asked about celebrating Black History Month, replied, “Ridiculous!” He maintained the best way to get rid of racism was to “stop talking about it.” Thus far it has been one dishonest monologue.

Overall, a compelling question, worth consideration regarding honesty may be, “Why would anyone rather be dishonest?” In the 1726 classic satire,“Gulliver’s Travels,” Jonathon Swift confronts his readers on a “Voyage to the Houyhnhnms.” This race of equine 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, those ends were defeated.” This was the Houyhnhnms locution for shining light on the practice of telling lies. Apparently, our human race isn’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, book IX,” 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 real, genuine, bona fide, upright, authentic, versus fake, feigned or duplicitous. This bromide is familiar, “Honesty is the best policy.” Truth tellers insist, “Honesty is the only policy.” We’ve been lured by such options and found wanting.

Imagine if we were cursed with Pinocchio’s lie-lengthened proboscis, like the 19th century Italian tale, by Carlos Lorenzini. The wooden puppet was recovering from a bout of having “fallen in with the wrong crowd.” Predictably, for some, 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 desired outcomes, 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 quotidian physical regimen or avocation. Parents are often knavish by warning their offspring, “Don’t let me catch you doing that again.” The savvy little cookie grabber translates the 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 has long regarded parents and grandparents reading bed-time stories to their offsprings as a tradition that renders 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 underscores upright character. “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” that final line transcends time. “That is the kind of thing that happens to people who lie: even when they tell the truth they will not be believed.” The serial liar has written a script that defies revision.

The confluence of the Old and New Testament is an unrelenting torrent of truth and honesty. It candidly reveals the outcome for those choosing another path, and the disastrous consequences when that path excludes Godly 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 knees and repentance. Like a basket of rotting fruit, his people were ripe for judgement. 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, that should have taken about ten days to reach the Promised Land, is compelling to curious minds of any age.

Nowhere is the virtue of honesty more on display than Hans Christian Andersen’s, “The Emperor’s Clothes.” This tale has been translated into over 100 languages. We see the pestilence of feigned flattery and dishonesty. New clothing, isn’t always in vogue. Called out by a child, the Emperor was foolishly determined, though his intuition was that 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 who held up the train that was not there.” Dishonesty corrupts not only the perpetrators, but spreads like a plague to those round about, when one’s authority influences others to advance a charade.

Pathological liars may fool a polygraph. Once-upon-a-time, prevaricators possessed the capacity for honesty. It demands a Savior bigger than our universally stained soul. Whether it’s swaying a political crowd with soaring rhetoric or whispering in someone’s ear-be honest. Dishonesty defeats the outcome of understanding. Honesty continues to be challenged by a culture addicted to moral relativism as an incidental byproduct of expediency. Borrowing a line from a classic song of the 60’s. “Till,” “Till the moon deserts the sky, Till all the seas run dry,” dishonesty will be a constant nemesis.

How long can constitutional liberty prevail when serial dishonesty and corruptive agents dominate nearly every institution on this mendacious cul-de-sac? What must we do to defend and protect our national heritage such as monuments, statues, structures and religious institutions, pubic and private, when dishonesty erodes their very foundations beneath our feet? What do you think?

Mike Pyatt’s a Natrona County resident. His email’s roderickstj@yahoo.com

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