Sunday, May 1, 2011

The Honesty Question

Today in church, we discussed the topic of honesty. I would say that of all the commandments that are the easiest to fudge and to fail to repent of, it would be honesty. How easy is it to tell a lie?

I have a few observations about honesty.

1 - Honesty is terribly undervalued, even in a society that "values" it. Abraham Lincoln is one of the most well-respected historical figures you will ever come across. One of his defining characteristics is that he was honest. Americans know the stories, and they value the stories. But are these values translated? Such hypocritical acts are reflected in politics, in the news, in sports, and in the everyday life of an American citizen and Christian. Clearly, there is a disconnect between learning about Lincoln and living like Lincoln? Why the disconnect? I would argue that the disconnect is a result of the success gained by living the alternative method while preaching pro-honesty. Simply put, society rewards the dishonest who pretend they are honest (until, like Nixon or Tiger, they are caught). There is no reward from being straight up dishonest or honest. You have to blend the two cleverly.

2 - This brings me to my second point. I have long wondered why many of my peers (myself included) would never even be tempted by the prospect of stealing a Charleston Chew from a grocery store, yet would freely pirate music. In my own personal experience, I used to justify my pirating ways by imagining the companies and the bands who were raking in the money anyways and thus it didn't matter if I didn't pay for their tunes. After all, I deserved the music! I didn't have money to buy it, and it was simple and easy to do.

There is, however, another reason why I pirated music. I never pirated music thinking to myself that I could get caught. This brings me back to my first point. Why would I never steal a mere 25 cent candy bar from the grocery store? Obviously, I knew it to be wrong, but I also was afraid of being caught and punished. Why do we not act like Lincoln? Because when we lie, we usually lie without fear of losing a person's trust, being punished, or getting hit with a backlash.

In this case, it is clear we have failed to internalize the principle of honesty. Interestingly enough, this problem doesn't seem to be as prevalent with other principles of the gospel. I don't think twice about paying my tithing, fasting, going to church, reading my scriptures, being of service to others, etc. Honesty lingers in the back as a "forgotten principle," a principle easily set aside and labeled as "malleable."

We must learn how to internalize honesty. "What would Jesus Do?" can become for us something more than a cliched phrase, if we let it govern our lives, include our everyday dealings with others. I think the Lord cares a lot about honesty (temple recommend, anyone?).


  1. My dad once said to me "I think the last 5% of honesty is the hardest." I agree. A few days before he stated this, I had found a candy machine that dispensed its wares regardless of quarters. I had discovered and had been going over and turning that crank, delighted to get back at those stingy machine owners. Of course, when my Dad proffered this wisdom, I felt terrible.

    In the abstract, music piracy fits nearly everyone's definition of stealing, so it's more than just perspective, to me. There must be a point of cognitive dissonance, and the person resolves the discomfort by changing their beliefs about piracy. The other explanation is that it
    never occurs to a person. Often, in conference, we hear warnings about the phrase "everyone is doing it." I always ask myself "do we really do that to justify sins?" I think that we do very often, but contrary to my imaginations, we don't do it consciously. Rather, we see the behavior of those we trust, and copy it wholesale, without thinking about it. That is a pretty pathetic trait, which we all succumb to I'm sure. Implementation of honesty is laden with the necessity to question the behavior of those around us just a little bit.

    A few honesty dilemmas:

    Is forthcomingness included in honesty? When? If not, is it a commandment in its own right?

    What about implied consent? For example, some music blogs offer purportedly legitimate downloads of artists' songs, but when considered closely, they place the burden on the artist to opt out, rather than the burden on themselves to get permission. In this case it seems clear that the blog author is in the wrong, but what about the user who doesn't go to all the trouble to find out about the legitimacy of the site?

    What about those "I have read and understand the terms of the agreement" boxes? When can we honestly answer that? How often do we honestly answer it?

    Those dilemmas are hard for me, because it can be very difficult to implement them faithfully.

  2. I agree with you Hess. Piracy is something that gets ignored by a lot of people because they do not think it is a big deal. I have been better at this lately. I have decided that if I do not get it from itunes or amazon, then I will not download the music. WWJD is what has helped me avoid piracy.

  3. "Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point." ~C.S. Lewis,

  4. Honestly, I think honesty is overrated. Honestly.