Synopsis : It seems that the basic honesty is in short supply these days so this blog examines the reasons and how it affects the daily lives of people everywhere hoping that some people will learn to value honesty again.

Is honesty outdated?

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Source : Google photo

There was an old woman who dropped a packet of money in a super market recently and started crying when she realized that she had lost her money this way which was a great amount and the only money she had for her family. When the security guard asked why she was so upset she shed more tears and told him her problem.

But unknown to her, a young girl saw the packet on the floor and stepped on it right away and asked her father what to do with it because she saw that it was full of money. Her father replied that she should return it to the security guard who will find the person who lost it and return the money to her.

Luckily the old woman was still nearby so the money was returned to her and it made her very happy and thankful to the young girl who replied that it was the right thing to do because the money did not belong to her.

This incident was reported to the TV host of a program who praised the young girl and made a scholarship available for her college education. He also wished that everyone was so honest and helpful.

There was another case of a janitor who found a huge packet of money and some jewelries in the airport in Manila and promptly reported it to the guards there who then found the passenger who had dropped the package somewhere and was frantic with worries. This incident also made great news in a country full of bad news of robbery, murder and mayhem every day. The TV host praised the poor janitor for his honesty and found many sponsors for a great reward for him and scholarships for his children’s education.

There are a few honest taxi drivers who find money or cell phones etc. left behind by passengers in a hurry and find ways to return them to the grateful owners. But it is also true that honesty is in short supply these days where a single incident mentioned above makes national headline in the media that is starved for good news.

What you hear almost every day is the dishonesty of maids who steal from their employers, baggage handlers at the airports who steal from the passenger’s bags and cashiers at the supermarkets who punch three times the price of an item when she should do it only once. There are endless stories of people who borrow money but run away with it with no intention of ever paying it back and there are stories of government officials from the lowest paid to the highest who steal the tax payer’s money without shame to enrich themselves.

We now live in a society where dishonesty is so rampant that a rare case of honesty makes national headline when it should have been a very normal thing to be honest. I was told that in some Scandinavian countries, no one locks his doors and people leaving behind some package by mistake are sure to find it where they have left it because no one will take it.

Sadly this is not the case elsewhere. Once we were riding the train in the Philippines at night when the train derailed at a rural site and the carriages tilted over. I was so worried by this accident that I pulled by wife and daughter quickly out of the carriage and were safe but the big bag I dropped on the ground in total darkness went missing. Someone had simply walked off with it.

When there is an accident on the expressway, often the injured and dying are robbed by the poor people instead of helping the victim and call for police or ambulance which goes to show the degeneration of moral values among the poor.

In some countries, people are more helpful and come to assist you right away guided by their moral values that help the needy. I was very pleasantly surprised when our child who had an accident in Mexico City Park one day falling from a swing was almost instantly helped by someone who called a social worker who came right away and called the Cruz Roja hospital that sent an ambulance quickly.

We could not thank the excellent doctors of the hospital enough who took our son to surgery right away and fixed his broken bone in the arm without charge but we donated some money to the hospital anyway. They did not ask if we had insurance or means to pay for the expenses. The Mexican people are so good and honest that it will melt you heart no matter what some say about their drug lords and other criminals.

I have been travelling through many countries and have experienced the basic goodness of people in many places and also known how low some people can get. If you go to Masai Mara in Kenya, you will never know who will run away with your camera bag or other things while you are admiring the lions and hippos. It has happened to someone I knew. The thieves’ market in Rome is notorious and lives up to its name any day although I found Italians very kind and hospitable almost everywhere except in Rome.

I think there is a great divide between the rural folks and the city people that is quite noticeable in some countries. Poorer the country, more criminals in cities is what I notice. While the rural folks are basically honest people, it is not so in some cities where the criminality thrives among the squatters and downtrodden who will do anything to get some money. This is perhaps out of desperation more than anything else but rural people are also poor but never desperate like the city poor.

There was a case when I was walking in downtown Nairobi one day when I saw a fellow drop a packet near me and walked on hurriedly. I put my foot down on the packet and saw that it was full of money so I called the fellow because I felt that perhaps he did not know that he had dropped something. But he walked on and disappeared leaving me with the dilemma as to what to do now. All of a sudden a young boy no more than 12 years old tried to grab the packet and run away but I swiftly caught his arm while he squirmed to get away with the money. Now the crowd started gathering to see what was happening and making comments while I started to think what to do next.

If I gave the money to the policemen who are notoriously corrupt, they will keep the money and put me in jail for alleged complicity. If I gave in to the temptation of sharing the money with the kid as he was suggesting showing me a nearby public toilet, perhaps his accomplices waiting there would knife me and run with the packet. So I finally let the boy go with the money who kept on saying that he got lucky. Perhaps he was lucky that it was I who found the money and gave it to him.

All this happened before one could count 20 so I felt that it was I who was lucky that day in Nairobi and did not get into trouble.

I think the moral degradation of values has something to do with the lack of faith in religion among the very poor urban squatters because all religions preach the moral code of conduct. Thou shall not steal, thou shall not lie, thou shall not covet the wife of another man, thou shall not make false allegations against an honest man etc. are chiseled into stones that Moses brought down from the mountain as the commandments but all religions say the same thing.

The only problem is that for some people, these commandments remain elusive because to follow the commandments of any religion requires an honest conscience in a person. A good and honest person does not require Moses to tell him what is to be done or not done because he is guided by a moral conscience and does what is right all the time.

A Dutch fellow wrote in the newspaper here that once he loaned a fellow a big amount of money who said that he was in dire need and promised to return the loan in the future but never did. The Dutchman never saw the fellow again who had claimed to be his friend but let him down in a big disappointing way. He said that in his country people never did such things and always paid back what they borrowed but here in the Philippines, it is different.

There are many Indians here who can be seen riding their motorbikes. They loan money to vendors in the market and collect every day a part of the loan plus some interest so they are called five sixers by the locals derisively. They serve the need of very poor people this way using the micro financing method without collateral because banks do not give such loans. By and large most people borrowing money this way pay it back over a period of time but there are horror stories as well.

Many such money lenders are killed by those who borrow and do not like to pay back the loan. This is an ancient practice. Remember how a French King who borrowed enormous sums of money from the Knight Templars to fund his never ending wars one day invited all the important Templars to a secret meeting to discuss how to pay back the money or ask for more?

The Templars did not know it but it was too late to escape the assassins who waited on the order of the king who found this way of wiping off his debt. Some of the Templars who had suspicion stayed back with most of their wealth in Jerusalem and hid it in a secret place there only to be looted by the Romans later on and carried back to Rome but that is another story.

The famous case of Grameen Bank in Bangladesh needs a mention here where a gentleman started loaning small amounts of money at low interest to very needy and poor people to set up their own business this way. He did not ask for any collateral like the banks and helped millions of very poor and desperate people set up their own shop to earn money. He was very pleasantly surprised when more than 95% of the borrowers paid back the loan on time making the Grameen bank a success story. Bill Clinton asked his help to set up a similar micro financing project in rural and very poor Arkansas. I suspect that this honesty among the very poor in Bangla Desh has something to do with their religion that tells them always to be honest. What is more interesting is the fact that women were more honest in repaying the loans than men.

I wonder if such a micro financing project could succeed here in the Philippines on a massive scale like in Bangla Desh or elsewhere.

There was a time when the word of honor was sufficient for anyone to close a deal and a simple handshake was all that was needed but not anymore.

When I wanted to donate my house to the Rama Krishna mission in Lucknow, the lawyers looked very hard at the deed of donation as if to find some hidden intentions there and only after a thorough scrutiny they approved the document. They could not believe that someone out of pure goodwill donated his house to charity as if it was not a normal thing to do.

So I miss the pure hearted and good people who are honest and help others without a second thought and without expecting a return favor. I miss the time when people said what they meant and meant what they said. If they made a promise, they kept it.

Now there is so much apprehension, so much distrust, so much calumny and deceit that it makes you wonder why it is so. Why people in some countries have lost their moral conscience to do what is right all the time.

May be you will call me old fashioned but some old fashioned values like honesty, truthfulness and decency are time honored values that are universal in nature.

I hope that honesty becomes universal and not an exception to be rewarded when a janitor or taxi driver returns the money. Because when honesty becomes an exception making national headline then it shows the decadence and degeneration of values our ancestors held dear.

If you have children, teach them honesty because an honest person can never go wrong in life and will always do what is right without anyone telling him so like that girl in the supermarket. Honesty is never outdated.

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I am the village bard who loves to share his stories.

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