By Henrylito D. Tacio
Three years ago, a pastor from another city accepted a call to a church in Davao. A week after he arrived, he decided to roam around the city. He rode a jeepney and gave the driver a crispy twenty-peso bill. There were so many passengers, and it took the driver two minutes before he was able to give the pastor his change.
The pastor counted the change, and he discovered that the driver had accidentally given him a peso more than what he was to receive. As he considered what to do, he thought to himself, “You’d better give the peso back. It would be wrong to keep it.”
Then he thought, “Oh, forget it, it’s only a peso. Who would worry about this little amount? Anyway, the driver gets too much fare; he will never miss it. Accept it as a ‘gift from God’ and keep quiet.”
When he was almost at his destination, he went near the driver and handed the peso. “Here, you gave me too much change,” he said.
The driver, with a smile, replied, “Aren’t you the new pastor near our area? I have been thinking a lot lately about going somewhere to worship. I just wanted to see what you would do if I gave you too much change. I’ll see you at church on Sunday.”
“Honesty is the first chapter of the book of wisdom,” says American president Thomas Jefferson. Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie agrees. In an interview, she was quoted as saying, “I’m just honest, I like that I don’t have to worry about what I say. I really don’t have the time or energy to pretend and I don’t want to live that way.”
Dr. Madison Sarratt, who taught mathematics at Vanderbilt University for many years before giving a test, would admonish his class something like this: “Today, I am giving two examinations – one in trigonometry and the other in honesty. I hope you will pass them both. If you must fail one, fail trigonometry. There are many people in the world who can’t pass trigonometry, but there is no one who can’t pass the examination of honesty.”
This brings us to the story shared by Anne Heagney about Oscar-winning actor Burt Lancaster.
As a poor boy growing up in New York City, Lancaster had the usual boyish cravings for cream puffs, chocolates, and ice cream. A quarter looked big to him.
One day, he stood on a corner in front of a bank; he looked down and saw a $20 bill lying in the gutter. It was the largest amount of money he had ever set eyes on, and his heart fairly jumped for joy at his great discovery.
He leaned down, picked up the bill, and put it in his pocket. He was thinking of the joy it would give his mother when he ran home with his prize. As he stood there dreaming of the delicious things he could now buy, an elderly lady approached him. He noticed how worried and upset she looked.
“You didn’t see a $20 bill, did you sonny?” she asked. And she explained how she had cashed a check for that amount at the bank to buy some articles that were badly needed for her family. She was in tears when she said, “I don’t know what I’ll do if I don’t find it. I must have dropped it near here somewhere….”
Lancaster’s fingers closed on the bill; a picture flashed through his mind of the good things all that money could buy. He must have been strongly tempted to keep what he’d found even though he knew it would be wrong. Still, he could have said, “Sorry, lady, I didn’t see your money.”
Instead, he pulled out the bill, “You did lose it here, Ma’am. I found it.” And he handed over the twenty-dollar bill.
The look of joy on her tired, anxious face sent a warm glow to his heart. She thanked him and went away with a light step. The actor recalled it as the happiest memory of his life.
American billionaire Warren Buffett said it well: “Honesty is a very expensive gift. Don’t expect it from cheap people.” James E. Faust has this to say: “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.”
“There is no well-defined boundary between honesty and dishonesty,” American author O. Henry pointed out. “The frontiers of one blend with the outside limits of the other, and he who attempts to tread this dangerous ground may be sometimes in one domain and sometimes in the other.”
It reminds me of the story of two women riding a bus. One of them realized she hadn’t paid her fare yet. “I’ll go right up and pay it,” she said. “Why bother?” her companion told her. “You got away with it, so what?”
“I’ve found that honesty always pays,” the other said virtuously, and went up to pay the driver. After that, she went back to her place and told her companion. “See, I told you. Honesty really pays. I handed the driver 20 pesos and he gave me 40 pesos change.”
These days, people look at honesty in a different manner. For instance, ethics is very important to successful businessmen. One executive explains it this way; “For example, an old customer paid his account today with a five hundred peso bill. As he was leaving, I discovered that he had mistakenly given me two five hundred peso bills stuck together. Immediately, a question of ethics arose: should I tell my partner?”
But honesty still abounds here and abroad. A taxi driver who returns the money that was left in the vehicle he was driving. A laundry woman who delivered the diamond ring left in the pocket of the pants she was washing to the owner herself. A high school student who failed his final examination because he didn’t want to cheat, unlike his classmates.
“It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not deserve them,” Mark Twain said. In the mid-1980s, researchers at Cleveland State University made a startling discovery. They conducted an experiment by creating two fictitious job candidates David and John.
The candidates had identical resumes and letters of reference. The only difference was that John’s letter included the sentence, “Sometimes, John can be difficult to get along with.” They showed the resumes to a number of personnel directors.
Which candidate did the personnel directors overwhelmingly prefer? Difficult to get along with, John. The researchers concluded the criticism of John made praise of John more believable. Admitting John’s wort actually helped sell John. Admitting flaws gives a person more credibility.
Now, I know a lot of people when they are on the brink of death; they will be honest to admit and tell the truth, and nothing but the truth. For as Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses, puts it: “With death comes honesty.”
Should you wait for that day to come before you become honest? “Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”