By Clyde Davis: Local columnist
I went into the movie box office to purchase two gift tickets, prizes for a Halloween party, and didn’t realize until I had returned to my car that my change had left the box office $5 short, as the young lady had counted out five twice.
When I went in to return the $5, she was of course happy, and thanked me for my honesty. The whole event, however, got me thinking again abut some things that have been on my mind a lot lately.
Dodging the issue — How common has this gotten to be in our time? I ask you a question, I ask for a price on something, I ask for the details of an event. If someone is dodging the issue, they will find some way to avoid giving me the information which I am looking for. Not exactly lying, they leave themselves an opening so that they can, at some later time, change the rules.
Equivocation — Kind of related to the above. In this case, the person to whom you are speaking dances around the edges of the truth, phrasing his or her answer in such a way that, if need be, it could be taken several ways. This leaves him or her a way to place the responsibility on your interpretation.
Flexible ethics — This is my overall term for a disturbing trend in society which includes both of the above, and some other ruses, as well. Ethicists are familar with the concept “situation ethics,” but flexible ethics are, obviously, times and places where I choose to bend my behavior according to what I want to see happen. Or, as the debate I used to have with my high school boys in Texas, “Is it not still poaching, even if you don’t get caught?”
Avoiding the issue — People who are so concerned with avoiding any sense of responsibility that they keep shifting the focus away from themselves, and placing the power to decide on someone else. We have all had that experience when we have an issue to settle, or a complaint to file; my wife recently ran into it when trying to get a refund at a truck stop. Afraid to make a decision? See someone at the next window; that isn’t my department.
I ask the question in general; Are we as a society sliding down a slippery decline where honesty is not the norm, but rather the exception? I am in the habit of telling my students, when they are explaining a missed class or assignment, that I believe them until they prove otherwise. That is a conscious choice that I make, preferring to err in that direction rather than become cynical and suspicious.
Of course I returned the $5; it wouldn’t enter my mind to do otherwise. I would like to believe that, had it been $100, I would have done so as easily.
What do you think, though? Are we living in a time and place where integrity is becoming an anachronism?
Somebody once told me that, come the end of your life, all you have is your integrity and if you can’t look at yourself in the mirror, you haven’t got anything. The face I see in the mirror won’t win any beauty contests, but the guy belonging to that face doesn’t have flexible ethics.
I hope, as a society, we can continue to say the same. Sometimes, I wonder.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: