By Bishop Michael Goings
Tradition has it that a certain Greek philosopher in the city of Corinth named Diogenes went about the city in broad daylight with a lighted lantern in search of an honest man. This quest for a man of integrity might sound and seem a bit whimsical or weird to us of the 2lst century; however, there was never a time when there was such a need for people of honesty and integrity. Though I will not employ Diogenes method of pursuit, I am nevertheless just as concerned as he was in antiquity that honest people are becoming an endangered species. I recently came across two accounts in my daily reading of various newspapers of professional dishonesty and unethical practices that greatly disturbed me. First, a noted regional lawyer was found guilty of lying and cheating many of his clients out of millions of dollars. An investigation found him guilty of malpractice and forging his clients’ names to settlement checks and putting the money in his own account. To add insult to injury, he would then cover up his insidious deeds by telling his clients that the defendants were playing hardball, stalling, or outright refusing to respond or making a settlement. This went on for a few years and to the tune of millions of dollars until he was finally caught. Then there is the recent uncovering of malpractice by many physicians, especially surgeons, who were prescribing and performing unnecessary surgeries that brought in megabucks. According to a recent front page special report that appeared in the USA Today entitled Under the Knife, these unnecessary surgeries were not only stealing our money, but in many cases physically debilitating and even causing death. “It’s a very serious issue and there really has not been a movement to address it,” says Lucian Leape, a former surgeon and professor at the Harvard School of Public Health. Leape, a renowned patient safety expert, began studying unnecessary surgery after a 1974 congressional report estimated that there were 2.4 million cases a year, killing nearly 12,000 patients. Leape’s take today, “Things haven’t changed very much.” The USA Today article further state: “The costs of unnecessary surgeries touch consumers and taxpayers in ways most never imagine. Medicare, Medicaid, and their private insurance counterparts spend billions of dollars on operations that should not be done draining health care dollars that could go for better use.” The previous excerpts from the USA Today article are sad and regrettable accounts that we are living in a time of deception and greed when “some” of our most trusted professionals are resorting to unscrupulous tactics to line their pockets. However, this epidemic of dishonesty is not isolated to one group or sector of our culture, but has permeated and transcended every profession and subgroup.
I recently encountered a situation that both alarmed and awakened me to the growing problems of dishonesty in our culture and locale. A young enterprising and “seemingly honest” man that I have known for many years convinced my wife and me that he was the right person for a job we wanted done at our house. He was so persuasive about his professional skills and ability to do the job, even producing a computerized and graphic picture of how the finished product would look. We agreed to give him the job since I knew and had grown up with his father. Howbeit, I made a crucial business blunder that I had learned over the years through dealing with a few dishonest and unprincipled people not to do. I advanced him two thirds of the cost of the job. Well, needless to say many weeks went by and he had not started the job yet. His excuse, when we were able to reach him, was that he had ordered some items and they had not returned. He persisted in a tactic of stall and would not return our calls nor respond by text until we were forced to take it to the next level, in order to recoup our money which had been advanced him. When I was finally able to reach him and talk with him face to face, I inquired why had he had acted in such an unethical fashion. He broke down in tears and told me a sad story (that was perhaps true) in which he had suddenly been depleted of his financial reserves thus robbing him of the capital to operate as a businessman. This (as I emphatically told him) never justifies underhanded and unscrupulous practices or maneuvers that always lead to ill-gotten gain.
The Triple I Effect
I would like to consider and conclude with what I have come to believe is the most logical reason for the epidemic of dishonesty that has gripped our culture. I have named it the Triple I Effect, because each of the elements that help to constitute the problem begins with the letter “I”.
I am convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that the primary motive behind the epidemic of dishonesty that is so prevalent in our culture stems from immorality. Immorality is defined as the quality or state of being immoral. If moral means to conform to a standard of right behavior, then immoral behavior is the polar opposite. When I was attending Gordon High School in the mid to late ‘60s, there was a substitute teacher named Mrs. Rose Ellerbe. Admittedly, she was not Lucille Belin, Florea Cagle nor Rosanna King in her ability to teach and motivate students academically; however, to her credit and praise she was a great proponent of “morals and manners.” Regardless of the teacher she was substituting for or the subject she was to teach, she would inevitably shift her focus to morals and manners. Thanks, Mrs. Ellerbe, for watering in many cases what our parents had already planted; therefore, for many of us your lecturing and laboring have not been in vain.
The next stimulus that is causing so much dishonesty in our culture is incompetence. Many people are simply exaggerating their abilities and skills to perform. Instead of admitting their inability or incompetence in certain areas, they are deliberately overstating and misrepresenting them, which is an act of deception and dishonesty. One of the many experiences I have had with people in this category involves a fellow who was notorious for misrepresenting his skills as a bricklayer and carpenter. In this particular case, he had built an inappropriate flue for a wood heater which belonged to one of the widows and mothers who attended our church. Knowing that I had some practical knowledge of masonry work, her son asked me to come in and inspect the flue that this man had built. Being very familiar with his ways and propensity to exaggerate (lie) about his skills, I was not surprised at all of what I discovered when I inspected his work. The flue, which was a very simple job for any reputable mason was a fire hazard and would have caused this poor woman’s house to burn down. Needless to say, I emphatically recommended that it be torn down immediately and rebuilt by some competent and experienced bricklayer.
The final thing that I will briefly mention is indifference, which is helping to promote and perpetuate dishonesty in our culture. This indifference is a two-headed breast. First, the ones who have become dishonest in their practices and dealings have grown indifferent and reprobate. Many are callous and incorrigible, having violated their own conscience too often. Then there are the victims who are becoming more and more accustomed and accepting of dishonest behavior without making an outcry or confronting those who have betrayed and misled them. I truly hope that this commentary will truly inspire someone to embrace the practice and principle of honesty. After all, honesty is the best (only) policy for those who wish to live fairly, justly, and without a guilty conscience.