The prevalence of lying within our society came home to me recently when a person before me defined being guilty as meaning “somebody knows you did it.” By clear implication, then that person, and a large portion of society, believes that we are not guilty as long as nobody catches us!
Lying and dishonesty are prevalent, not just within our legal system. Most any day’s news will have a story about somebody who has lied or cheated (since lying and cheating go hand and hand). Think of the Penn State University administrators charged criminally with lying to a grand jury. High school students and former students cheating to get better SAT scores in New York. Bernie Madoff. Unfortunately, some teachers, pressured by government mandates to perform and be accountable, teach items on a test rather than the basics that most of us in earlier generations learned. Lawyers simply have to think back to the Watergate era and all the lies that were told then and all the lawyers who were disbarred. Shortly afterward, law schools began adding ethics courses.
With the “great recession” many of our millionaire business executives were caught “scamming the system” and now business schools have begun teaching ethics and sponsoring ethics seminars.
In order to get an edge, lying about one’s military record became so prevalent that Congress felt obliged to pass the Stolen Valor Act to criminalize lying about one’s military service in a job application.
Ethics courses may be helpful in the long run although from my personal view, they have not had much success up to this point. Acts of Congress never have been able to enforce a moral code.
Educating our students in ethics and morality is certainly a worthy undertaking. Many of our local schools participate in the Character Counts Program (charactercounts.org). One of the six Pillars of Character in that program is “trustworthiness.” This concept includes not only honesty but also integrity, reliability and loyalty.
Like so many things however, how we solve this problem does not begin with “what they should do” or “what they should not do” but with what I do, what each one of us does. I think we can all agree that much of what we learned, and the easiest part of it, we learned by example of others, at least in the “life lessons” field.
Our society isn’t just determined by criminal laws, we are also bound by our moral code. In a country whose motto is “In God We Trust,” He should not be the only person we can trust! Newsperson Patrik Jonsson of The Christian Science Monitor said in the July 25, 2011, issue that “the justice system, the political system, and even democracy itself can’t function if they’re built on a foundation of fibs.”
The process of not being a nation of liars begins with each of us and so perhaps a good New Year’s resolution will be to make an extra effort to be truthful and honest in all that we do so that the person next to us, the child around us and all others will be tempted to do the same rather than the opposite. In The Book of Virtues by William J. Bennett, on the topic of honesty, he includes this poem which is good food for thought for all of us.
. . . .If the whole world followed you – followed to the letter –
Would it be a nobler world,
All deceit and falsehood hurled
From it altogether;
Malice, selfishness, and lust,
Banished from beneath the crust,
Covering human hearts from view –
Tell me, if it followed you,
Would the world be better?
Thanks for the opportunity of serving as your Circuit Judge. Best wishes to all of you for a truthful, happy, and better 2012.