The Appeal of Honesty
SIMPLE, forthright honesty carries appeal. Strength of personal development seems to accompany it, even if the person in whom it is found is not highly educated or financially well fixed.
This is illustrated by what took place a couple of years ago. A well-educated doctor in the United States pointed to an example of honesty for his children—a taxicab driver! The doctor read that the cabby had returned to the owner two bags of jewels left in his cab. So he wrote to the cabdriver’s children: “I have three sons. I hope that I will cause them to be as proud of me in the conduct of my business.”
Such honesty is indeed pleasurable to behold and worthy of commendation. On the other hand, self-respecting persons are quick to condemn obvious violations of honesty. They detest stealing and find nothing at all appealing about such a practice.
If asked, they probably could not tell you exactly why stealing does not appeal to them—it just seems naturally wrong. But they know, too, that robbery, shoplifting, tax cheating and the like cost “honest” citizens billions of dollars every year in the form of police protection and added charges on products and services. Dishonesty creates a climate of fear where no one knows whom he can trust. Understandably, therefore, flagrant dishonesty does not appeal to decent people.
But is that all there is to be said on the subject of honesty—that one should not take other people’s personal property without their permission, that it is wrong to defraud the government, and that a person ought to return to the owner any lost articles that he may find? Hardly. Much more is involved.
Reflected in One’s Whole Life
A person may not steal someone else’s belongings, but is he equally “honest” in other respects? For instance, is he open, “aboveboard,” and genuine when he deals with others? Or, is he deceitful? Does he use crafty, underhanded methods, perhaps spreading rumors and lies to discredit others as a means of advancing his own ambitions? Is he honest in his conduct with the opposite sex? A person who flirts with the feelings of others is not honest. So, honesty, it can be seen, takes in more than how one handles money and goods; it involves every part of an individual’s life.
This fact is also indicated by the Greek word that is sometimes translated “honesty” in the Bible. The Christian apostle Paul says: “Carry on prayer for us, for we trust we have an honest conscience, as we wish to conduct ourselves honestly in all things.” (Heb. 13:18) The Greek word used here literally means that which is ‘intrinsically good,’ beautiful and worthy.
The apostle Paul was scrupulous in dealing with his Christian brothers in money matters; only honest men were used by him in financial transactions, that no one might find fault with Paul’s ministry. (2 Cor. 8:16-21) However, in writing to the Hebrews, Paul was commending his whole course of life to them. He had avoided deceit and craftiness. Because of this honest, faithful service, he felt confident that he could request their prayers in his behalf. Today, do we not still find people like that a pleasure to be with? Are they not the kind for whom we are inclined to “carry on prayer”?
If humans find a person desirable because he is free from deceit, genuinely honest, think how God must look upon such ones. The Bible writer David prayed to Jehovah: “Look! You have taken delight in truthfulness itself in the inward parts; and in the secret self may you cause me to know sheer wisdom.” (Ps. 51:6) Yes, honesty or “truthfulness” must proceed from “the inward parts” or “secret self”; it must be representative of what a person really is. David here admits that even he had to learn to be truly honest from his “inward parts,” for it was not an inborn trait.
When truthfulness, honesty, earmarks a person’s life, the results are always favorable, bringing about lasting good. Understandably, David wanted this fine trait to reveal itself in a practical way in every aspect of his life and so he also prayed, according to the parallel expression, for “sheer wisdom.” How today can one be transformed to an upright course and be genuinely “wise”?
Developing True Honesty
By study of God’s Word the Bible, for one thing. Also by reflecting on the marvelous works and acts of God. As a consequence, deep inside a person, in his “inward parts,” he becomes more sensitive to what is wrong. He takes to heart the Biblical injunction: “Let the stealer steal no more.” (Eph. 4:28) Every part of him slowly becomes enveloped in a desire to be pure, genuinely honest.
This is a beautiful process. It has taken place in thousands of persons who were formerly dishonest. Some were outright thieves and shoplifters; others were more subtle, padding expense accounts, and so forth. But they came in contact with the Bible—and with those who really believe it, Jehovah’s witnesses. Earth wide the Witnesses are known as a society of honest people from all walks of life; the cabdriver referred to earlier is a Witness in New York city.
A Seattle (Washington) Times reporter visited a convention of Jehovah’s witnesses some time back and reported:
“Imagine, if you can, 40,000 visitors in a city and all of them in the habit of being law-abiding citizens . . .
“I saw tens of thousands of people get up from their seats in the stadium at the noon lunch recess and reserve their same seats for the afternoon session by leaving on them their tape recorders, binoculars, umbrellas, purses, sweaters and cameras and walk away to be absent about 90 minutes with no worry or concern about theft. . . .
“By their high standards of morality, courtesy and honesty they bring nothing but good to any city they select for a convention.”
Even away from home, when they are not observed by close associates, these Christians are honest. They are not among the one in three motel or hotel guests that steal from these establishments, as reports show. Says the New York Times: “The purloining of . . . ‘souvenirs’ from hotels and motels throughout the country has reached absolutely staggering proportions. . . . It [is] impossible to compute the exact value of the items taken.”
It is not surprising, therefore, that a leading motel in San Bernardino, California, wrote to thank a woman, one of Jehovah’s witnesses, after she sent back a towel that she had inadvertently packed with her belongings. The innkeeper’s letter included:
“In all my experience I have never known anyone to return a towel. Our inventory denotes that over 500 were ‘missing’ during the last year. I am delighted to hear from you and look forward to seeing you again.”
What a fine testimony to this Christian’s honesty! Yet, thousands of true Christians have, like her, developed a desire to be honest in such respects.
In every part of his life, a person should let honesty be a controlling factor. And as a person becomes more sensitive in matters of honesty, he should also be learning something else. What is that? Balance.
A Balanced View
A self-respecting person does not want a reputation for being a thief—large or small. But, on the other extreme, he does not care to be known, perhaps even among his own Christian brothers, as a fanatic. Thus, he comes to learn that what constitutes “stealing” is not always a so-called open-and-shut case. In applying principles in his daily life he soon finds that there are many gray areas.
The Christian knows that the eighth of the Ten Commandments says simply: “You must not steal.” (Ex. 20:15; Matt. 19:18; Rom. 13:9) In many parts of life those words are relatively easy to understand and apply, as in the case of the cabdriver and the jewels. But suppose a person is in a public telephone booth; when he completes his call his coin, instead of going down into the coin box, returns to him. Then what? Would it be dishonest to keep the coin?
Well, is any ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ going to cover all situations? Some persons may say that the coin should not be kept. But another may remember that several times the same telephone did not complete his call yet took his money. To keep the coin or not—would that not be something that the individual, knowing the circumstances, must decide for himself?
Or, consider another illustration. It would be easy to be critical of a person because he “takes” pencils from the office where he works. But certain companies encourage employees to spread pens and pencils bearing the company’s name as a form of advertising.
And what about when a buyer and seller are bargaining? In some countries the person selling the merchandise, say, a blanket, sets a price on it that is purposely higher than what it is worth. The buyer, on the other hand, may believe that the blanket is worth a certain amount. But he knows it would be foolish to offer that price immediately, since the bargaining process requires give and take: the seller usually drops his price only as the buyer raises his until a mutually agreeable figure is arrived at.
If you were the buyer, would you consider yourself dishonest because your first offer is below what you know is the blanket’s true value? Is it somehow “more honest” to start with the price you know it is worth and then be forced to pay more? Or, if you were the seller, should you be expected always to let people buy from you at a loss to you because you refuse to start with a higher price? That hardly seems reasonable. Ordinarily neither one, buyer nor seller, knows in advance what the final price acceptable to both parties will be. The bargaining process is simply the customary manner of determining it.
As these few examples show, balance is mandatory. A mature Christian knows that the Bible says: “You must not steal.” At the same time he is aware of the circumstances that must be considered as he seeks diligently to apply that law in his life. He should know, too, that each one ‘reaps what he sows.’ (Gal. 6:7) If a person takes too liberal a viewpoint, some may incline to doubt his trustworthiness in a difficult situation. If he is too unbending, he may become unrealistic.
From his own life’s experiences a Christian knows that factors that others cannot see may affect how he makes decisions in matters involving honesty. Thus, he will not be too quick to condemn what others do in similar personal circumstances. Rather, he will credit fellow Christians with having an earnest desire to carry on all their affairs in an honest way. This considerate course is consistent with what Jesus said: “All things, therefore, that you want men to do to you, you also must likewise do to them.”—Matt. 7:12.
Jehovah’s witnesses stand out in contrast with the world. While the world has a reputation for dishonesty, the Witnesses strive to be just the opposite. The overall picture that they present to the world is one of honesty. The fact that they, unlike most in the modern dishonestly inclined world, are even willing to weigh principles in their lives like those illustrated above is in itself a marvelous thing.
How many persons do you know who are sincerely striving to be honest in all matters? Just imagine associating with 50, 100, or 200 persons that are. That is the happy experience of Jehovah’s witnesses who come to know one another at their local Kingdom Halls around the world. They view one another as brothers and sisters and have the same confidence as though they were members of a single warm family. Does that not appeal to you?
If so, why not associate with them at their Kingdom Halls. Observe for yourself what it is that makes them different.