Monday, November 30

"Where is there dignity unless there is honesty?" Cicero (106 BC - 43 BC)

The statement is pretty clear and straight forward. No argument made by Cicero here in support of his assertion – he makes this statement as if it is a self-evident truth, one I happen to agree with and that most people would have a hard time arguing against. Honesty, after all, is a value and virtue that we still hold aloft in principal if not in practice.

To me though, that our culture still does praise the virtues of honesty seems a bit hypocritical. We live in the age of persuasion, after all, when the ability to manipulate opinion, coerce agreement, ‘win friends and influence people’, and make a hard sale seem to be qualities that we praise above the more ‘traditional’ virtues. 

I’d go so far as to say that dishonesty is the more valued attribute in our day and age, provided you can be profitably dishonest and not get caught. We still love to hang the dishonest villain out to dry if they get themselves caught, but while they are raking in profits or basking in the limelight, we praise that kind of ambition and drive.

By Cicero’s standard there’s an awful lot of undignified behavior today, just as there was in his time, but also like in Cicero’s time, we are the only species on the face of the planet that can consciously aspire to refute dishonesty, to stand apart from the kind of win-at-all-costs and avoid-responsibility mentality that makes it possible to rationalize dishonesty as a legitimate choice of action.

Honesty pays the kind of dividends that dishonest dealings can never provide: honest and humble pride, a sense of honor and the aspiration of nobility of character. Old fashioned concepts perhaps, but the kind that can still apply in a modern and changing world if we make the choice to prioritize them. What kind of world would we be able to make for ourselves if enough people chose honesty and dignity, not as replacements for profitability and success, but as the measure of them?