America's Shell Game

Delta Winds cover 2001Delta Winds: A Magazine of Student Essays
A Publication of San Joaquin Delta College


America's Shell Game

Steven Price

Honesty. I think that we are becoming a society of people who can't tell when we should tell the truth. As I was growing up, my parents always stressed to me the importance of telling the truth. They reminded me that although I may get in trouble for something done, it was always better to tell the truth than to risk harsher treatment for the falsehood told. Everyone I knew also believed you should tell the truth and be honest with people you meet. I developed bonds with people because I could trust their word and did not have to fear that there was some underlying motive for their actions. Friends, relatives and employers were honest with me so I felt an obligation to also be forthright with everyone I dealt with.

Today it seems that people would rather lie to you than be honest about something. Everywhere we look there are examples of someone trying to cover up a wrongdoing. From the most uneducated criminal to the highest office in this country, we can see examples of dishonesty.

When I worked as a collections agent, I found that the store manager was stealing from the till when customers made payments to their accounts. When I confronted the man about this, he tried to cover it up by saying that he would credit the person's account when business slowed down. However, he was putting the money in his pocket; a handwritten note was made on the account, and the money was not put in the store register. When I told the store manager about this, I suddenly was the bad guy. I had done nothing wrong and, in fact, was correct in alerting management about the theft, yet I was considered to be the cause of the problem by all of the employees when the man was fired from his job. The employees apparently felt it was acceptable to steal from their employer.

I think our attitude towards honesty and accepting responsibility has degenerated because of parents who have taught their children that it is completely acceptable to be dishonest. The parents have taught this by their own actions. Police officers have told me that when investigating cases involving children, the parents oftentimes try to minimize the seriousness of the offense. Frequently, the parents say it really isn't that bad; they blame the person making the report and try to persuade those involved to not talk any further with the police. What kind of message does this send to the child? I believe that it teaches the child to act dishonestly to avoid trouble. It is okay to blame others for your actions. If they hadn't told on you, you wouldn't have to lie about it now. The children aren't being taught to do the right thing. They are being taught to do whatever they want and blame others if someone asks about their actions.

A few years ago I witnessed a collision involving a police officer. The officer was driving his police vehicle with the lights and siren on. According to the law, other motorists are supposed to pull over to the right and yield to the emergency vehicle. In this collision, the other driver pulled to the left in front of the police officer's vehicle, causing the collision. I was subpoenaed to the civil trial against the officer and his employer. Prior to the trial's start the attorneys contacted me, and I learned that the other driver claimed to have pulled to the right and said the officer was driving on the right shoulder of the road. Therefore, the officer was at fault for the collision. This person was willing to testify in court about something that he knew was incorrect. Not only was this illegal but also morally wrong. And think about the financial hardship this could have placed on the officer and his family for the officer's correct actions. The other driver gave no thought to this; he was only looking out for himself and trying to avoid trouble.

A few years ago the President of the United States stood before a court of law and, under oath, testified that he did not have sex with "that woman." Then we learned that he did, in fact, have sex with the woman in question. The president gained nothing by lying, but he lost his integrity in front of the entire nation and the world. Yet, even though he was known to have lied to the American people, he maintained a high public confidence rating throughout his presidency. The majority of Americans were willing to accept his dishonesty. The president of the United States should be the one person we can trust to tell the truth. If America's president can't even tell the truth, how can we expect each other to be honest?

Americans seem to have come to a point where the truth is lost somewhere between what they want it to be and the truth itself. It has become too easy and acceptable to blame another person for our actions or to place responsibility elsewhere for our ignorance. Most people remember the story about George Washington when he was questioned about the cherry tree. It probably would have been very easy for him to say he didn't do it or he didn't know anything about the tree. Instead, with the integrity of a young boy, he replied to his father, "I cannot tell a lie." Sadly, I think if most people today were asked this same question, they would look for ways to avoid the issue and would say, "I cannot tell the truth." Even sadder, a majority of people will blindly accept their explanation, no matter how ridiculous it may sound.

America is playing a shell game with itself, putting the truth under a cup and moving it around until it fits our own individual sense of right and wrong. The problem is that we are gambling with the integrity of each American living in this country. America and her citizens should not be so willing to readily accept dishonesty and lack of integrity. In the end America's continued lack of integrity will return to haunt the nation and its people. We will not be able to maintain our position as a superpower in the world without the trust of other nations. Honesty is a trait most people look for and admire in someone. However, in today's world I think it would be very difficult to find that trait on a regular basis.