Tuesday, February 15, 2005

A Note on Honesty

“Honesty is a lonely word,” sang Billy Joel in one of his songs. I heard that song a bit ago and wondered about its meaning and the meaning it has in the world today. It is sad but probably true. Honesty and integrity probably lead to some sort of rejection and emptiness. After all, what kind of woman wants to hear that, yes, her boyfriend does think of other women? Or really who wants to hear a salesman say that the sofa you just spent $1300 on will probably not make it to your home in the next six months because its coming from China and the freight company his employer deals with is angry with them and won’t pick it up once it does make it to the docks? No, we want to hear that all is fine and dandy and that we do look good in that awful striped sweater.

The loss of honesty and integrity in our lives has been gradual and yet all-encompassing. Vice-presidential candidate, John Edwards, in a debate this past year, stopped the mediator and humbly stated, “I’ll be honest with you” before he proceeded to state a genuine opinion. The implication of that preamble is that up until that point he wasn’t being totally honest and felt the need to clarify his sincerity. I don’t doubt that Senator Edwards believed in his heart that all he had said to that point was true, but the fact that he clarified and restated his honesty points to the blurriness that exists not only in politics, but also in the world as a whole.

This past summer, Lance Armstrong won a record sixth Tour-de-France and in the process inspired legions of young men and women. Following his victory, allegations arose accusing him of taking performance-enhancing drugs. A former Armstrong aide and friend made the allegations by mentioning them to a French author who then published them as part of a book. Armstrong, of course, vehemently denied the allegations and maintained his innocence. What gives? Someone is lying. The allegation and the denial can’t both be true. Either this former friend is lying and trying to sabotage a spotless image just out of pure malice or Lance Armstrong is lying in order to preserve an image and legacy that would be devastated by this revelation. The public doesn’t really ever get to find out the truth because no honesty is forthcoming.

I am always pleasantly surprised when public figures take responsibility for indiscretions and mistakes. Milton Bradley, an outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, threw a bottle into the stands this past year and lost his “cool”. He was subsequently suspended by the league and asked to receive counseling. Rather than blame the fans that threw the bottle, Bradley apologized and took responsibility for his actions. He actually said he was wrong. How refreshing! I wonder how things would have been different if President Clinton, Kobe Bryant, O.J. Simpson, Martha Stewart and hundreds of other public figures would have said the same thing instead of claiming they were the victims. It should be noted that Bradley lost his “cool” numerous times thereafter and has quite a different problem altogether.

The message so often is sent that honesty and integrity don’t pay off. Why should young people tell their parents they are taking drugs? Why should spouses come clean about their lurid intimacies? Why should politicians tell us what they really think? They shouldn’t. Parents, spouses, and the voting public don’t really want to know. We feel safe in this dishonest, valueless and selfish world. Disingenuousness surrounds us. We aren’t alone.


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