a thousand words

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

DEATH OF THE HONOR SYSTEM


We Cannot Police Or Legislate Morality. So Many Crucial Decisions Have Been Left To The Will Of The Individual.

A President and his cabinet lie about the reason for war. An author makes up his biography. Athletes use drugs to perform better and teachers cheat on student's tests to get money.

In each case, we relied upon the honor, nobility and heart of an individual to do the right thing. In our life the Honor System has been the foundation of day to day life. We do our own taxes, check out our own groceries and are asked to only take one mint from the bowl at a restaurant.

An honor system or honesty system is a philosophical way of running a variety of endeavors based on trust, honor, and honesty. Something that operates under the rule of the "honor system" is usually something that does not have strictly enforced rules governing its principles.

For years this worked because there were more honorable people than dishonorable ones. So we always had cheats and liars but the good outbalanced them every time. America fought off its enemies and survived a civil war. We plunged into the Industrial Revolution and changed the way the world lived.

From the mid 20th century to the end, the notion that it's okay to cheat, lie and steal in some cases became pervasive in our society. We began to worship heroes who bent the law, and subverted societal convention. And as long as they got paid for it, we forgave them.

Don't get me wrong. I do not hold people to a standard of perfection. Humanity is a delicate mix but what has built civilization is not just intellect but humanity and compassion and without those last two elements, civilization crumbles. Man has always been more good than not and that has kept us from destroying ourselves time and time again. But if you think we have lost our way, if you believe that something is rancid in our culture, you have to look no further than what you tolerate. No system of government or society can be held together by a corrupt people because:

Where there is no honor, there is no system.

So teachers cheat, politicians lie and someone empties the mint bowl at the restaurant. And our respons is
"Damn, he beat me to it!" And when there is outrage, it is only because we want to hold someone else to the honor system so we may defeat them by using our own dishonor.

And i know you think this is all nothing new. You're wrong. America has never had this level of casual acceptance of bad behavior. We have always struggled with our conscience but only now do we teach our children the art and benefit of being an asshole.

When he was in high school, my son found a $100 bill and turned it in to the school administrator, a priest. The Administrator was so overwhelmed at the act, that he wrote us a letter praising us for teaching out son the value of honor. As a parent I am proud of course but when I look at our society I wonder if I am doing a disservice. Am I sending a lamb to a slaughterhouse filled with men and women who look a nobility as weakness?

Since the beginning of the world, people have speculated about the end of it. We always picture explosions, disease, war and violence. I think that the end, if it comes, will be quiet, soft and almost unnoticed. It will be when there are more dishonest people than not. This will tip the balance, break the system and that's all she wrote.

I would certainly like to know what you think. I have just one requirement:

Be honest.

Copyright 2011