Gospel Principles 31: Honesty
One of the lines in the manual that jumped out at me was this:
Honest people love truth and justice.
I’ve been in more than one lesson on honesty where hypothetical WWII-Era German families hiding Jewish neighbors in the attic are brought up as thought experiments on what it might mean to always always always be honest. I think that little line lays that thought experiment to waste, more on that in a minute.
The rest of that initial line I quoted goes on to say:
[Honest people] are honest in their words and actions. They do not lie, cheat, or steal.
The manual then goes on to outline just exactly what it means to lie, cheat and steal. On the first read, this section seems almost insultingly basic, there are however a few gems in there.
Under the section on lying, there is this line;
“Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest.”
This leads me to think that people who are deeply committed to honesty will always be seeking after the most accurate and complete information possible. They will always be seeking for more knowledge, and will be continually reviewing thing they already ‘know’ for new information.
For example, I receive a fair amount of forwarded emails, many of which are exaggerations at best. Were I to pass along those emails with falsehoods in them, that would be a form of dishonesty. Perhaps it isn’t the worst form of dishonesty out there, but it is spreading untruths. For people truly committed to honesty, simply not knowing about the untruths isn’t much of an excuse.
When viewed in that way, we all ‘lie’ all the time, and all of us have room for improvement.
Under the section on stealing is this line:
“Taking more than our share of anything is stealing.”
To be honest the very first thing I thought of after reading that line was candy. My grandma used to bring us a bag of candy on Sunday evenings, and one of my earliest memories is dividing those bags into perfectly even portions for all us kids. One thing I learned pretty early on is that more for me, meant less for someone else. Many things in our adult lives are like that as well, though quite often the ‘someone else’ who gets less may be someone we’ll never meet, perhaps even being on the other side of the world. The consumption habits of many developed nations is, in a fashion, taking more than our fair share.
When viewed that way, we all steal all the time, and all of us have room for improvement.
Under cheating is this line:
“Providing inferior service or merchandise is cheating.”
Inferior. Inferior to what? Inferior to what other people expect? Inferior to what we promised? Inferior to what we are capable of? A reasonable standard would be to say that providing service or merchandise that is inferior to what we promised or implied is cheating. But I don’t think we necessarily have to stop at being reasonable. I, personally, am of the opinion that if we do things that are inferior to what we are capable of, then we are cheating ourselves. Doing less than our best is a form of cheating, and therefore dishonesty.
Say it with me now; When viewed that way, we all cheat all the time, and all of us have room for improvement.
I bring these things up, not to make us feel like we’re bad people, or to feel riddled with guilt. Instead, I can be pretty prideful, and am often inclined to think, “Honesty? I’ve got that in the bag! I am all set, and have no problems there.” And while on some level that is true, the main thing is that there is always room for improvement.
So coming back to that line
Honest people love truth and justice.
If I love truth, I’m never going to be content with knowing a little bit. I will want to know everything there is to know. If I love justice than I am never going to be content with something that is unfair happening to anyone, especially if I play some part in that injustice. I will want to root out every unjust thing that could possibly happen in this world. So if I’m going to be an honest person then I will always have room for improvement.
Now for the hypothetical German family with their Jewish neighbors in the attic. Honest people love justice and will do what is necessary to make it happen. In this particular case justice is served by saving those people’s lives.
Note: This lesson was originally written for the Relief Society audience in 2010-2011, when the Gospel Principles manual was temporarily used as curriculum for Relief Society, Elders Quorum and High Priest classes. The lesson may require adaptation for Gospel Principles classes, which are mixed gender and primarily serve new members and investigators of the church.