What Do You Think of Honesty?

You know, if we’re not careful, we’re going to become a nation of crooks, liars, and cheats.

We’ll turn this country into a nation of people who believes it’s alright to break the law, just as long as you’re not caught. In the February 1960 issue of Redbook Magazine, there was a terrific article by William Peters entitled, “American Morality.” It points out that, with so much evidence of cheating in business, in public life, and in the classroom, we must take a big effort to regain our traditional standards of honesty and, more importantly, pass them on to our children.

For example, a 1958 study reported that of college seniors questioned, 75% of them admitted cheating! Only 13% felt that a cheating student was basically dishonest. These statistics may have prepared some Americans for the more recent exposé of graduate theses ghost-written for money by professional writers.

This sort of report shocks almost everyone, but why do these youngsters feel that it’s all right to cheat?

All they have to do is read newspapers and listen to the radio to find evidence of dishonesty at virtually every level. Quiz show scandals which told the country that some of their favorite quiz shows had been rigged; “payola” in connection with some of their favorite disc jockeys; housing violations by slum landlords; illegal outside jobs held by policemen; police clean-up to end direct partnerships with criminals; and a retiring admiral caught smuggling untaxed liquor into California from Guam in a case labeled “household effects.”

When our young people hear about these cases, they generalize – they assume that all cops are crooked; that all television shows are rigged; that all disc jockeys take “payola;” and that all naval officers smuggle booze.

They figure that if the other kids cheat on their exams and have their theses ghost-written – it’s all right for them, too.

There was also the report that white-collar employees were stealing from their employers at least $1 billion a year; a figure more than double the annual national loss from professional thieves and burglars! This profile of the typical white-collar thief, drawn by the U.S. Fidelity and Guaranty Company, is even more disturbing: “He’s 35 years old, has one or two children. He lives in a respectable neighborhood, is probably buying his own home. He drives a low or medium-priced car and has been employed by the same firm for three years. He has been stealing for eight months.”

It would appear that far too many of us have forgotten one of the greatest laws of life.

I think it’s a good idea to drag it out and look at it again and again, and often, and remind our children of it and convince them of its truth. That is – we must and we will – get back from life exactly what we put into it. If we are dishonest, we’re going to have to pay for it, one way or another, sooner or later. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Our environment will always be an exact reflection of our attitude toward life.

If we cheat, it is we who are being cheated. It is we who must lose, in the end.

We ought to give thought to the words of Ed Murrow, “No nation was ever great without greatness being demanded of it by its leaders. Americans for years have been asked only to pay their income taxes.”

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