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Is there any honesty in public life today?

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When I was growing up, honesty and integrity were values we were all taught to admire and to aspire to. When I raised my own family the same values were espoused. I believe that my children are bringing up my grandchildren with these values. I'm sure that, apart from a very small minority, all Australians are honest and aspire to having honest children.

I recall an occasion many years ago when I was working at a Sydney racecourse and lost my wallet. My first thought was "Could I have lost my wallet in a worse place, could I expect anyone in the crowd to pass up the opportunity to fatten their wallet from mine?" My second thought was "I suppose I should go and ask in the office if anyone has handed it in". This I did and was amazed to be shown a drawer full of fat wallets all of which had been found by people in the crowd and handed in to the office. They all remained uncollected because those who had lost them had the same first thought as I did. Clearly the honest outnumber the dishonest by a very large margin and I am constantly reminded that this is true. To tie up the loose end of this story, I hadn't lost my wallet at all, I had left it in the car.

With this positive assessment of the society in which we live, why do I not trust people in authority. Opportunities to know the truth about most things are pretty hard to come by. We all have to take a lot of what we are told on trust. Sadly, evidence that we are being told lies is mounting with every passing year.

In the recent times, we have had to witness the unedifying spectacle of the hierarchies of various churches, men who claim to be able to tell us how to live good and honest lives, revealed as men who protected paedophiles within their ranks by hiding the truth which is tantamount to lying.

One defining characteristic of the past was that anyone in public life caught telling lies was required to resign. Not too many years ago, well only twenty or so, a Government Minister was forced to resign because he signed a false customs declaration on his return from an overseas trip. The specific nature of his offence was that he didn't declare a toy teddy bear he was bringing back as a present for a child in has family. Today, not only does the offender not lose his job, he is generally supported by he colleagues and his superiors and may well be promoted if the lie is "useful".

I fear that telling lies in public discourse has become not only acceptable but, in some peoples view, necessary. I blame Paul Keating for this but all of his successors seem to be tarred with the same brush.

Our present Prime Minister was found to have lied during the last election campaign. He doesn't admit it but the preponderance of evidence says he did. One of his defences against this charge is "This election is about the future, not about a few day in the last election campaign".

I wonder what the future will be like if past lies are to be forgotten and liars are to go unpunished. How will any of us make a judgement about anything we are told by the leaders of our society if they are able to tell lies and then tell us to forget what they said.

There is a deep and insidious effect on society when lying becomes acceptable. If "they" are allowed to get away with it, why shouldn't "we" do it?

If lying is OK, what about cheating? If cheating is OK, what about stealing?. If stealing is OK, what about other crimes? Where will it all end?

Sadly, today we are right to doubt anything anyone in authority tells us unless we either know the person and trust them or we have independent corroborating evidence that they aren't telling lies.

My advice to you is "Be truthful in all your dealings" and, when others are dealing with you, "Be a Skeptic".

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Created: 28.08.2004 and last revised 05.11.2004
Author: Robin Chalmers Copyright in all the material on this site is asserted by the author
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