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Feature Stories

The Cash Value of Honesty

From Issue: Volume XXII - Number 14

By Al Jacobs

While staring directly into the mirror, pose this question: Is that the face of an honest person? If the answer is even marginally affirmative, then try the follow-up query: Will that really enhance my overall life performance? The point is the value of honesty must be analyzed objectively rather than by the metaphor of the cherry tree reputedly chopped down by a young George Washington.

The real question to be asked is whether honesty is always the best policy. Over a half century ago that versatile comedian Bob Hope starred in a situational comedy entitled “Nothing but the Truth.” In the picture Mr. Hope played the part of a man who entered into a wager requiring that, for a period of twenty-four hours, he would tell no lies. Imagine the effect on his business and social life.

At one point while at a dinner party, the hostess, a vain dowager, sought Hope’s reassurance that she looked no older than 30. Hope attempted to sidestep the problem by answering in French, but his antagonist insisted that the phrase be translated into English. The party ended abruptly with Hope’s translation that the hostess “ ... couldn’t pass for thirty with a bag over her head.”

The simple fact is the use of deceptive words and phrases – euphemisms, if you prefer – as well as outright lies is a time-honored tradition. The beginning of wisdom as well as the start in solving problems is to call things by their right names.

Thus if a mentally defective child is called “exceptional,” or a prison is described as a “correctional institution,” despite the fact no real effort at correction is made, expect these verbal distortions to work against finding solutions.

With that as a lead-in on public and institutional honesty, what must we demand of ourselves? It’s appropriate to re-ask the question whether honesty is in fact the best policy.

This cannot be settled with the expected affirmative answer provided by your scout troop leader or parish deacon, nor should you accept the cynical negative response most certainly gotten from a carnival sideshow operator or district alderman.

Not until you come to terms with your own personal aspirations, family expectations, and demands of society, can you fashion a realistic code by which to live. In the final analysis, honesty for most people is rarely an absolute. Instead, it is relative and often selective. How relative and selective yours will be is an important life decision.

Let’s now approach this head on. It’s my firm conviction a reputation for impeccable honesty is among the most valuable assets you can possess. There are no limits to the doors that open and the opportunities afforded a man or woman whose words and actions can be trusted.

Whether you’re of truly high moral character, or possess the personal values of an eighteenth century London pickpocket, is not the issue. From a purely pragmatic frame of reference, conduct your affairs in a way that your reliability can never be criticized.

Note that my stress is not on honesty per se, but on reputation for honesty, so if you cannot bring yourself to adhere to these standards, at least try to be discreet in your dishonesty.

For those of you who fit into this category, take your cue from the late comedian George Burns who declared: “Sincerity is my strong point; I fake it masterfully.”

It’s vital you not lose sight of the fact that a sterling reputation is an irreplaceable commodity to be guarded carefully. And just as it’s advantageous to be believed, strive to deal with others who likewise are believable. In short, recognize that there’s cash value in honesty.

Al Jacobs is the author of The Road to Prosperity. For information on his new book, go to this website: