The thoughts are flying through my brain. I sit and try my best to capture one – just one – and pin it down so that I can see if it will be an appropriate specimen for dissection in tonight’s post. It feels as if I’m in one of those game show money booths…you know the ones…where the contestant walks in and the door is closed behind him or her, right before the fan starts swirling dollar bills all around them. There may be an incredible amount of cash inside, but you can only keep what you are able to pluck out of the air. And, the bills are elusive, so many of them that it is impossible to focus on any one to snare. Very few contestants emerge with a significant quantity of cash in their hands. Well, if thoughts were dollar bills tonight, I’d be a very poor man walking out of the booth.
Yet, as I attempt to snag just one cogent thought from the atmosphere, I hear the indicator tone of the fax machine in another office. A look at the incoming document brings a sigh of disgust. Someone in China has died and left a huge sum of money unclaimed and I must help the banker embezzle the nest egg before an official in the government can get their filthy paws on it. Annoyed at the waste of my paper and ink, I reach over to toss it in the waste basket, but I pause in the motion. A sentence near the bottom of the page catches my eye. “It’s my utmost concern to demand your ultimate honesty.” The final sentence assures me that the process will be executed in a legitimate arrangement which would legally protect me from any breach of law. My disgust turns to laughter as my mind processes this hypocrisy.
And, just as suddenly as the tone of the incoming fax had turned my attention away from my dilemma in the thought machine, I reached out and snagged one of the ornery critters from mid-air in that office. It is a question which has been nagging at me recently and which I discussed with an old friend today. If I sell my integrity for money, can what is left still be called integrity? My friend says no. I say no. But my new benefactor in the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China says yes. He wants me to sell my honesty for forty percent of twenty-two million dollars, but insists that he is counting on my honesty in the process. I wonder…who is right?
You laugh, as I did, but the issue for me is that we live in a world that does not. Again and again, I am astounded as companies that claim integrity and honor prove that they have abandoned those virtues to pursue instead, the profit margin and bottom line they value above all else. Closer to home, I deal, on a daily basis, with folks whose intention is to defraud me in order to enrich themselves. One person came in today asking if I would purchase a guitar. When I made an offer based on the actual value of the instrument, the tear-jerking story began. Electricity about to be turned off, children who would be removed from the home if that happened…the details were embellished to move me emotionally as the person spoke. I told my old friend later that I quickly gave them a little more than the guitar was worth, just so that they wouldn’t have to make up more lies.
Life is full of just such disappointments, in our hope for honesty and integrity from those we rub shoulders with, as well as from those across the nation from us, and yes, even from people across the water. But, I’m not sure that I would be doing you a great favor by drawing these disappointments to your attention and then leaving you in the depressed state which such thoughts evoke.
As I spoke with another friend this afternoon, he talked about those who are doing the best they can, but still need help. We commiserated about the difficulty in differentiating between the dishonest deadbeat and the deserving destitute. (I suppose I really should reword that, but face it, the alliteration is delightful, is it not?) Our conclusion was a little unnerving, but liberating nonetheless. You may want to read the following sentence more than once. It’s not our problem! That’s right. Not our problem. We have our mandate. Help the poor; clothe the naked; feed the hungry. Period. Our mandate doesn’t include instructions to be sure that they won’t misuse the aid we offer; there is no command to only give to those who deserve our gift. Simply, help.
Are you depressed because someone has taken advantage of you? Don’t be. Be glad that you were able to be generous. Unhappy because they keep doing it? It’s not your problem. You see, integrity demands only that we ourselves do what is right. I was never called to be a conscience for anyone else. I am sad when people and entities I trust don’t live up to my expectations. But, I know that this is reality. I can’t fix them. I can do something about how I treat other people, and about how I do business.
Tonight? I’m going to help my new friend at the bank in China and throw away his letter.
Well? He did demand my ultimate honesty.
I owe him that, at the least.
“If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also.”
“No man can purchase his virtue too dear, for it is the only thing whose value must ever increase with the price it has cost us. Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it.”
(Ovid~Ancient Roman poet~43 BC-17 AD)
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2013. All Rights Reserved.
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