What's the price of honesty?
How much of your integrity are you prepared to sacrifice on the altar of lies and material gain?
I was in a pub in Napier, New Zealand, in 1976 when the barman accused me of short-changing him.
I was bamboozled by the claim.
I just wanted a drink.
Years later in Hobart I arrived home one Friday night to discover the miserable signs of a burglary.
They took everything plugged into a power point.
It was the second time I've been burgled. It cut deep.
How dare they invade my privacy. How dare they.
When we bought a house for the asking price, the agent said he would have to check because another buyer was interested.
But I've offered the asking price, I said. There's nothing to negotiate.
He said he would get back to us.
I said I wasn't engaging in any bidding war and left.
Sure enough a few minutes later he rang to say the mystery buyer had dropped out.
We knew she didn't exist.
You can deceive kings, governments and big corporations. You can rip off the teenager at the supermarket checkout or a bus driver. But, whatever the level of deceit your integrity suffers the same. I brooded for ages over the burglary but really the burglar lost much more than I ever did.
You can deceive kings, governments and big corporations.
You can rip off the teenager at the supermarket checkout or a bus driver.
But, whatever the level of deceit your integrity suffers the same.
I brooded for ages over the burglary but really the burglar lost much more than I ever did.
You can replace a TV but the burglar can't replace a reputation.
The shop assistant hands you $20 in change and you know the right change is $10.
Your honesty is at the crossroads.
Do you quickly walk away with your ill-gotten windfall, or stop and make a stand.
The cleaner says he'll do it for cash.
He's avoiding tax. It's an affront to taxpayers, ripping them off.
But, do you meekly roll over, or say no, you want an invoice? It is so easy to become complicit in someone else's little scam.
The cleaner insists on cash, saying an invoice is not worth the tax and all the paper work, otherwise he'll walk away.
Honesty is a tough gig. But what price do you put on your integrity?
Our reputation is under attack daily from all kinds of situations where you have the choice to either be honest or dishonest.
Each time you cave in your integrity, indeed your reputation, takes a big hit, no matter how minor the incident.
Every day out there people are making dodgy insurance claims and in many cases they get away with it, but sooner or later a smart insurance company wises up, investigates and there goes the reputation.
It is mystifying that people will risk so much for so little and even if they get away with the fraud there is always the potential for colossal damage to their reputation.
The dirty little secret, gnawing away at the soul.
Now, of course I know that all routine liars and fraudsters will think all this is total nonsense.
Everyone does it so they're just getting their cut.
Honesty is an intangible attribute and so easy to ignore.
The only casualty in dishonesty may simply be your conscience and after a while you can't feel that either.
What you prefer to focus on is the profits - the $20 or $20,000 you've gained by a sly bit of clever dishonesty.
Screw them if they were dumb enough to trust you.
The jails in the world would fill up overnight if everyone who lied about their income tax deductions were exposed.
It's not just financial crime.
People lie to their partners, to their loved ones, to their children and to friends and every time the wilful lies and the lies by omission get a little bit easier.
Even little white lies, no worse than schoolyard fibs, are equally as catastrophic as the big lies that cost others a lot of money, wreck marriages and wreck families.
If you're dishonest with the kid at the checkout you'll just as easily be dishonest with the tax office, insurance company or a magistrate.
The sad thing is the sins of the parent are visited on their children.
When a six-year-old first sees mum or dad cheating the kid learns that being dishonest is okay. A fine tradition of trust and integrity is lost right there and then.
The child may recover later in life and realise the real value of honesty but more likely the dye has been cast.
I've always wanted to go back to that pub in Napier and tell the barman I wasn't being dishonest, but instead the next morning I caught an early bus for the next city.
Obviously the experience has stayed with me.
If dishonesty makes you feel guilty you should quietly celebrate, because your conscience is desperately trying to come up for air. At least you still have one.
- Barry Prismall, former The Examiner deputy editor and Liberal adviser