By David Hegg
As ethics are the outworking of values, so also actions are the evidence of what really fills the heart. One of the hardest tasks we all face is determining the trustworthiness of those with whom we deal daily. Which contractor should we use? Which dealership should we trust? Who can we believe? Where can we go to find an honest opinion and a fair deal? All these questions come back to the same starting point: how do we determine the character of those we depend on?
There is no one simple formula for assessing integrity and trustworthiness. There are, however, several tests which, taken together can substantially validate a person’s character. One of them is the connection between what people say and what they really think.
In Matthew 12:34 Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” If you listen long enough you can usually determine a whether a person is committed to truth, or simply a verbal pragmatist.
In the courts witnesses are asked to swear an oath to offer honest testimony. It goes like this: “Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” Let’s take a closer look at this little test.
Imagine that you are staring at a blank sheet of paper with a horizontal line drawn in the middle. Let’s call this line “the truth.” The witness is being called to hold that line, to tell the truth. Further, they are required not to go above it or fail to come up to it.
If they fail to come up to the line they have not told the whole truth. There is more to the story that needs to be told but they have stopped short. This gives the impression that part of the truth is enough. However, leaving out parts of the truth fails to gain the line.
If they go above the line they have offered more than the truth. They have gone past what is true and added other information that now is masquerading as truth. This greatly confuses the issue since material has now been admitted into evidence that can obfuscate the actual truth.
In assessing character nothing is more useful than listening to what someone says. We simply have to ask: Do they say what they mean, and mean what they say? Are they clear about the truth and careful to hold the line? Or are they purposefully vague, interested in maintaining wiggle room and plausible deniability? Are they given to be self-protective at the expense of the truth or are they comfortable divulging what they really believe?
The great band The Who had a song that asks a penetrating question: “Who are you?” In every relationship, be it in business, politics or our personal lives, this question is paramount. Who are you, really, when no one is looking, when there are no recording devices or cameras around? The only way we’ll know the truth is if you tell it to us. Please hold the line. Be a person of integrity. Tell us what you think and who you are and then stick to it.
Increasingly our national ethic is eroding to the place where duplicity is considered finesse, and the ability to spin is seen as essential. But giving in to this sort of pragmatic activity is really the road to ruin. We hunger for friends and leaders who will have a settled conviction and be unafraid to present it, define and defend it, and then stand up for it without wavering.
Marcus Aurelius said it well: “If it is not right, do not do it, if it is not true, do not say it.”
Simply put, character is king, and those who have it and can express themselves clearly and consistently deserve to be listened to, followed and modeled. We just need to find them.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.