Honesty and Integrity

“May integrity and honesty be their virtue and their protection” (Psalms 25:21).

Boy, were we excited! Mom was dressing my sisters and me all up to go for a Sunday ride in a car. I know that this makes me sound ancient, but we had never been for a ride in a car. We didn’t own a car. A few years earlier, when I was about three years old I vaguely remember riding in the back of a pick-up with a bunch of furniture when we were moving into our current house.

Anyway, our father told Mom that he would borrow a car from where he worked as a mechanic and take us for “an outing” (he didn’t use that term). Mom got us all spiffed-up and we keep looking down the road watching for the car. We waited and watched; watched and waited. Finally after several hours we decided that our Sunday ride wasn’t going to happen. Our dad came home late into the night drunk as usual.

I remember that event, as well as others, because it was so emotionally charged. Heightened Affect (highly charged emotion) will imprint indelibly on our memories. We don’t realize it at the time, but those events, and others, help shape much of our emotional and psychological make-up that determines how we view people and sometimes even God.

Another event that I remember vividly also had a big impact on my life and, again, played an important role in how I viewed people. As a young boy of twelve, I was hired to work at a music studio where I was taking guitar lessons. One of the owners, Max Springer, only ten years my senior became the older brother I never had. Actually he was more of a father figure that I never had. One day, some years later at the studio, someone simply walked out the door with a very expensive new electric guitar without being detected. I was standing with Max and his insurance agent as they discussed the incident. Since there was no break-in, there was no coverage. The insurance agent then asked Max, “do you want to break a window, or do you want me to?” By breaking a window it could be reported as a break-in and the insurance would pay. I was shocked when Max responded, “neither one of us is going to break a window, and I want to cancel my insurance.” Max would not deal with a dishonest man.

Even though the perfect crime could have been committed, and insurance money collected to cover the cost of the guitar, Max would not compromise his honesty and integrity just for money, or for anything else. Over years of association with Max, I learned what it was to be an honest man. Max would always tell the truth regardless, sometimes to a fault ( you don’t have to be so truthful that you insult or hurt others when it’s possible to say nothing at all). I regret that Max died recently without my having told him of the incredible impact he had on my life. Young people may not always do what they are told, but they never fail to imitate the behavior of adults in their lives.

For a while, many years ago (seems like a lifetime), I was in business for a short time with a man who turned out to be, in my opinion, a pathological liar. He would tell a lie when the truth was better! In thinking about his mind-set of lies, and others afflicted with the same defect, I arrived at a theory that somehow explains their thinking. The vast majority of people will make a statement of fact based on its relation to some historical event to which it relates. The “pathological” liars simply answer whatever pops into their minds at the moment, or what will put them in a better light, or get them what they want, and they believe that to be true. They seem not to be able to measure their response to a real historical event. Otherwise why would they tell a lie when the truth is actually better? There is also, probably, a self-image issue of compensation involved. This is not the problem with “normal” liars who know they are telling a lie for whatever reason.

And then there’s the person who is a different person according to the situation. True, we do have to alter our behavior at times depending on the setting (you can’t joke about firearms standing in line to board a plane), but there is sometimes a fine line between fitting into the circumstance and being dishonest. I know a “good Christian” man who for whatever reasons would ignore me in a public setting, intentionally, I believe. However, when we attended an appreciation gathering for a person at his church, I was greeted with a big smile (that was unusual), a big handshake (that was unusual), and a hearty “Welcome, how are you”(that was really unusual). I almost didn’t recognize him. He had a “sour” public persona, but a very friendly “church” personality. I find it difficult to understand how he is so unaware of the “split personality.” I have seen so much of that type of holy behavior that I have made a conscious effort not to be a different person in a different place, especially at church. To get a reality check, I have occasionally asked Pat (my wife) if I act differently at church than I do at home (when I have related this I usually add, for a laugh, that my wife says “No, you’re a jerk at both places”). I’ve often thought that it strange that some people will be very nice and even hug me at church, but not at Wal-Mart.

Proverbs 22:1 states that “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.” One cannot buy a good name, only “friends” until the money runs out (Proverbs 19:6b). A person’s word is the only real thing they have. When people stop believing your word, you have lost your honesty and integrity.

Working in Public Schools I witnessed students who had no respect for any school property and regularly lost or defaced textbooks without recrimination. Parents didn’t seemed concerned either and rarely paid for a lost or destroyed book. I remember a time when Matt (our son) was taking a high school lab class and accidentally broke some type of a glass beaker. Usually a student would be reprimanded but not asked to pay for the damage. However, Matt voluntarily told the teacher he would pay for the beaker, which the teacher gladly accepted (doing the right thing sometimes costs!). As an adolescent I accidentally broke an expensive watch of an adult who was very upset with my immature behavior, but yet did not demand that I replace the watch. I didn’t even think about paying for the damage. My attitude was that I was glad I got away with it. I was not taught at church: I didn’t go to church. I wasn’t taught at home; my examples were too often dishonest people.

Our integrity crosses over into every aspect of our lives. As I tried to teach my children: to do the right thing in public is expected, usually: to do the right thing when no one knows or is not watching, reveals the quality of your character. While “ordinary” lies are the most recognizable acts of dishonesty and lack of integrity, I believe the most deadly acts of missteps in integrity come in the form of interactions with people. When we don’t speak up because we believe, at the time, that “silence is golden,” it may simply be “yellow.” Or when we justify our “holier than thou” remarks in trying to straighten others out, we say, “Well, I’m just being honest” Proverbs 12:22 reads, “The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in men who are truthful.”

D. De Hann writes, “Lord, by Your Spirit grant that we-In word and deed may honest be-All falsehood we would cast aside-From You, O Lord, we cannot hide.

Comments

  1. I am so grateful to have grown up with such an example of honesty and integrity. Thank you Dad! I love and appreciate you more than you can imagine.

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