Sigh. A recent headline: “University Fires a Dean Over Falsified M.B.A. Rankings Data”. Another: “New Mexico Secretary of State…Pleads Guilty to Fraud”. And another: “Scientist Falsified Data for Cancer Research”. These and similar headlines often dominate the news cycles these days; one can’t help but wonder how much goes unreported, and even undiscovered.
Honor and integrity are foundational virtues, and yet seem much diminished in our day. We see this in many modern arenas. Skewed reporting is making “news” more of a running editorial or even partisan fabrication; we scarcely know where to turn to find objective news reporting anymore. When we do view the news, there’s yet another embezzlement of funds, another betrayal of trust, another blatant lie from some notable.
One must resort to comparing various reports in order to attempt to guess as to what the accurate version truly is—sort of like a jury immersed in the adversarial process, subjected to different versions of an event, each side trying to convince that their own version is closer to reality.
Sadly. this exaggeration and, at times, blatant dishonesty, worms its way into the general fabric of society, especially among young people who may come to view dishonesty as the “norm”, and then go on to lie, cheat and steal whatever they can when they think they can get away with it. People will lie even to me, a priest, with no apparent compunction whatever, heedless of how such behavior is not only sinful, but obliterates personal honor and trustworthiness.
Honor, as it is said, is the gift that you give to yourself, and you are the only one upon whom it depends for its continued existence. Everyone is assumed to have personal honor until he proves otherwise … but then that proof can destroy it forever. As a German philosopher wrote: “Honor has not to be won; it must only not be lost.”
Whether one keeps personal honor depends almost exclusively upon integrity—honesty, trustworthiness, dependability, etc. This may be one of the things Jesus was thinking about when He taught: “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much; and he who is dishonest in a very little is dishonest also in much.” (Luke 16:10), and, similarly, as we read elsewhere: “Dead flies make the perfumer’s ointment give off an evil odor; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.” (Ecclesiastes 10:1) This is a reality of life—betrayal or untrustworthiness in smaller things will thereafter obliterate future trust. Such a person may (out of necessity or personal ties) remain employed by or hold friendship with the aggrieved, but never will that trust be renewed to its former untarnished level. As an old adage goes: “A hundred years cannot repair a moment’s loss of honor.”
One of the most common and painful situations of betrayal is with adulterous affairs. After all, if one breaks his vow to both spouse and God, who will trust the person after that? The aggrieved spouse, even if deciding to remain with the offending spouse, never recovers that explicit trust once freely given, and is always on watch simply in hope of emotional self-preservation. Who suffers even more so are children of such a union, because their whole world is balanced on knife’s edge, and they live in constant insecurity of what will happen next, asking themselves whether they themselves are loved, and fearful for their own well-being. So very sad to witness.
Temptations against honesty and integrity are rife, and thus every day we must make that determination to fend them off. Oh, how easy it is to get away with this little theft, that little “white lie” (whatever THAT is), that “minor” obfuscation or infidelity. But even if we’re not “caught”, we chip away at our personal honor nonetheless, and often slide the slippery slope into greater and greater offenses against integrity—much like a thief begins with petty theft, and later progresses to objects of increasingly greater value. Anyway, we Christians know that we are never NOT caught: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.” (Luke 12:2-3)
Also, false integrity is no integrity at all, just as something won by cheating is no win at all; or, as we tell young people, a test aced by cheating is no ”ace” at all, but rather a failure on multiple levels. This is why the cardinal sin of scientific research is the falsification of data or test results; who will subsequently ever trust any report from that researcher again?
And so personal honor and integrity are among the greatest virtues which we ought cultivate, preserve and protect. Whether we receive external honors matters not; after all, many receive such honors that are unworthy of them. Personal honor and integrity are treasures which we internally are certain that we have … or not. As the poet said: “Our own heart, and not other men’s opinion, form our true honor.”
And so, as we read in scripture: “My son, glorify yourself with humility, and ascribe to yourself honor according to your worth. Who will justify the man that sins against himself? And who will honor the man that dishonors his own life?” (Sirach 10:28-29) We only have one life to live; live so as to have good conscience in your last days of how you have lived it, able to pray with confidence: “…judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me.” (Psalm 7:8)