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Honesty's value hard to measure

January 08, 2009|By LISA PREJEAN

The other day my 13-year-old and I were sitting at the table, each reading a section of the newspaper, when I slid my section over his way.

I pointed to a story and asked my son to read a quote from a public official and tell me what it meant.

"To protect appropriations you were getting, you had to show progress. So I think we had to overstate our progress."

We talked about each part of the official's statement.

Because appropriations refers to money, the official was saying that his organization wanted to continue getting the money it was receiving.

My son and I then looked at the next part of the quote: "you had to show progress."

In essence, people had to think his organization was doing what it was supposed to do. This is a good thing if progress truly was being made. However, the next part of the quote is disturbing: "So I think we had to overstate our progress."

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The two words "we had" implies that some kind of pressure was being placed on his organization to do ... what exactly were they doing?

" ... to overstate our progress."

Overstate means "to give an extravagant or magnified account of (facts, truth, etc.); exaggerate."

Then I asked my son what he thought the official was admitting.

He quietly read the quote again and thought about it for a minute.

"I'll give you a clue," I said. "It's a little word and it starts with 'L'."

My son looked back at the paper and said, "They lied to get want they wanted."

Exactly. But why? Perhaps they felt this was the only way to save face. Things were not going as planned, and there could be an uproar if the public caught wind of it. Besides, this "progress overstating" might be the practice of other organizations that received comparable public funds.

I don't know about you, but when I read such statements from public officials, I become angry.

It's frustrating when this happens, not only because our tax dollars are being misused, but also because it sets a poor example for tomorrow's leaders.

Parents, teachers, coaches, employers and others need to be able to point young people to positive role models. In today's greedy society, those models can be difficult to find.

You can tell a child not to lie, not to exaggerate, not to cover up what he or she has done, but if those in the public sector are glossing over their falsehoods as if the truth doesn't matter, it's hard for a young person to develop discernment.

It's important to encourage our youth to evaluate what they read, hear and see so they can recognize error, even when it is not presented on a silver platter.

I have to admit, I'm an idealist. I tend to give politicians the benefit of the doubt. I believe that most people enter public service with worthy goals and aspirations. Somewhere along the line a few of them become desensitized to what is right. If everyone in every department is padding the figures, that makes the one who refuses to do so look bad. I can't imagine the pressure that scenario presents: The kind of pressure that makes an official say his organization felt "we had" to do something wrong.

But I can teach - and you can teach - young people that it's never right to do wrong, even when the pressure is intense.

And if things don't go as anticipated, admit it. Be honest. That approach may not be fashionable, popular or career-advancing, but there is value in a clean conscience.

An honest person can go through life in a peaceful state and has little trouble falling asleep at night. The value of that cannot be measured.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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