“Basic Concepts of Honesty,” New Era, Feb. 1978, 4
As we strive for achievement and success, so much of our time is consumed in thought and study of the complex that we seldom take time for the simple—the simple things, the little things that are in reality the basis upon which we build and without which a strong foundation cannot exist. A structure may tower to the sky, and we may look at it with awe because of its stature and great height; yet it cannot stand unless its foundation is anchored in rock or in steel and concrete.
Character must have such a foundation. I draw your attention to the principle of honesty. Why is it so many believe in the high and lofty principles of honesty, yet so few are willing to be strictly honest?
Several years ago there were posters in the foyers and entries of our chapels that were entitled “Be Honest with Yourself.” Most of them pertained to the little, ordinary things of life. This is where the principle of honesty is cultivated.
There are some who will admit it is morally wrong to be dishonest in big things yet believe it is excusable if those things are of lesser importance. Is there really any difference between dishonesty involving a thousand dollars or that which involves only a dime? Is there any difference in principle between a little white lie and the perjury of a witness in a court of law or before a congressional investigation committee under oath? Are there really degrees of dishonesty, depending upon whether or not the subject is great or small?
I know our criminal codes distinguish between petty theft and grand theft. The penalty attached to grand theft is much more severe than in the case of petty theft. Consider for a moment, is there really any difference between the two, in basic principle?
Scripture is replete with admonitions to be honest, and commandments are myriad to the effect that we should be honest. We think of them in bold type: THOU SHALT NOT—thou shalt not steal; thou shalt not bear false witness; thou shalt not covet.
I recall a young man who was in our stake when I served as a stake president. He traveled around with a crowd that thought it was smart to do things that were not right. On a few occasions he was caught in some minor violations. One day I got a call from the police station and was told he was being held because of a traffic violation. He had been caught speeding, as he had on a few other occasions prior to this time. Knowing the things he was doing might prevent him from going on a mission, he straightened up, and when he was 19 years of age, he received his call.
I shall never forget the talk we had when he returned. He told me that while he was in the mission field he had often thought of the trouble he had caused by the mistaken belief that the violation of little things was not important. But a great change had come into his life. He had come to the realization that there is no happiness or pleasure in violation of the law, whether it be God’s law or the laws that society imposes upon us. He said to me, “When I drive a car now and the speed limit is 55 miles an hour, I feel it is morally wrong to drive a single mile faster.”
I was impressed by the great change that had come over this young man while he served on his mission and studied moral principles. How unfortunate it is that he had to learn his lesson the hard way, but what a great blessing comes when there is the realization that one cannot be in violation and feel good about that conduct.
Some of the more common examples of dishonesty are these:
1. Stealing. I seldom read a newspaper without finding a number of reports of burglary, robbery, purse-snatching, shoplifting, car theft, and a thousand other things. Even in our chapels there are reports of petty theft.
2. Cheating. Newspapers carry similar accounts of fraudulent transactions in security dealings, in business transactions, cheating in investments, and other things that are called to public attention. There are some who would cheat their way through school and some who would cheat in examinations.
3. Violations of Word of Wisdom standards. These are Church standards. They are not violations of the standards of the world. But you have been given the word of the Lord on this subject.
4. Violation of traffic ordinances. One cannot be basically honest and violate laws formulated by society and government for the welfare of other persons.
5. Not making the best use of time. The more I think about this, the more impressed I become with this concept of dishonesty.
We often speak of that scriptural reference, “Man is that he might have joy.” There is a joy that comes to one from being honest. Let me tell you how. By this means you can have the companionship of the Master and you can have the Spirit of the Holy Ghost. Violations of the code of honesty will deprive you of these two great blessings. Could you believe that one who would lie or cheat or violate the Word of Wisdom could have the companionship of the Master or have the Spirit of the Holy Ghost?
If we are sensitive to our relationship to the Savior, we must be honest in little things as well as the big. We should always remember that we are never alone. There is no act that is not observed; there is no word spoken that is not heard; there is no thought conceived in the mind of man that is not known to God. There is no darkness that can conceal the things we do. We must think before we act.
Do you think you can be alone when you commit a dishonest act? Do you think you can be unobserved when you cheat in an examination, even though you are the only person in the room? We must be honest with ourselves. If we would have the companionship of the Master and the Spirit of the Holy Ghost, we must be honest with ourselves, honest with God, and with our fellowmen. This results in true joy.
Think of what an act of dishonesty will do to you. It does not make any difference whether it is great or small. First, it may affect your whole life. You will have a hard time living it down. It will be difficult for you to forget about it because it will be engraved upon your conscience. Secondly, it will affect others in many ways. The injury is far-reaching. Its malignancy extends to your friends, your relatives, your loved ones, and persons you may never see. Thirdly, it affects your relationship to the Savior. It closes the channel of communication and shuts out light from your life.
How enjoyable it would be to live in a world of strict honesty.
I once heard a man talk of his native village high up in the alps in Switzerland. He said his father was a shoemaker. After the day’s work was done, he would close the door to his little shop but never lock the door. The door had never been fitted for a lock, nor were any of the other doors in the village locked. There was mutual trust and confidence, one for another. How wonderful this would be.
This Church is only a minority group in the world, but remember, the thinking of the world has been changed by minorities on many, many occasions. Through following the concepts of basic honesty as taught by the Savior and exemplified by his life, you can leaven the world.