Am I An Honest Man?

I have a choice to make.   I have known for days this choice  might come. The anticipation got me started wondering if I am on Honest Man. I then began to ponder what was the standard for being an Honest Man? Now I must choose . While my choice will not shatter the earth, it may shake my self-image.

What makes an honest man?  It is not that honesty is difficult to define. In my opinion honesty is more black and white than many other character traits.  dictionary .com got it right:

truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness
freedom from deceit or fraud
Saying what you sincerely believe to be true and not deceiving or committing fraud. Clear-cut, easy to understand…to a point. There are shades of grey.   To be an Honest Man must one always needs to be honest?  For if not always where do you dear the line. More than half the time feels inadequate. Is it even in the percentage of time? What about the magnitude of the lie or fraud? (BTW for the sake of this discourse I am setting aside those untruths we say to purely avoid hurting another’s feelings or to maintain marital bliss such as responding to “Do these clothes make me look fat?” or ” Am I funny?”)
If magnitude is measured in dollars or impact on another person”s life, again the standard becomes difficult to define.  If the fraud is small can one still qualify as an Honest Man? For example, if one chooses to pocket the few dollars a cashier mistakenly gives, is that dishonest?  Certainly it is the employee’s responsibility to do their job. You did not initiate the deceit you just chose not to correct it.  In fact you are doing a public service are you not? OK, not.
Anyways, honesty comes easy when the stakes are small.   The psychic reward for being honest often is often greater than the few dollars of gain. Does one need a large test to really know the extent of their honesty?  How far does one have to go to correct a mistake in order to be considered honest to the world or, more importantly in the court of self-introspection?

My dilemma, the choice, that began the quest to understand Honesty falls  into this latest category though the circumstance is a bit more complicated. Let me come back to the specifics. First let’s address the importance of  honesty about honesty at this moment in time.

First, this is personal. We all define ourselves.  I have never been Mr. Excitement, the Life of the Party, the Risk Taker, the Athlete.  I have always perceived myself and tried to live up to The Mensch, the person who does the right thing. Honesty is a core aspect of menschness. Am I honest all of the time? No. I try to be but am occasionally weak when  lack of honesty provides me with some advantage.  Yet I believe that I am honest the vast majority of the time. I definitely even desperately want people to know that they can trust me.  They might not agree with me but know I will be sincerely truthful.
Second,  like many politicians, I am concerned about the morality and values of people and the direction in which they are  headed.  ( I am putting aside from the conversation today the honesty of politicians. That would require an entire book’s worth of writing and more satire than I have time for. Between Jon Stewart and Stephen  Colbert one can find all one needs on that topic.) There are too many media reports of lies and deceit and the media only report on the smallest fraction of a percent of what goes on in the world. I am very concerned that people growing up in these times of high technology especially in terms of interpersonal communications.  The reduction in face to face and voice to voice communications I believe desensitizes us to the fact that what we do and say impacts real people.  Without strong  People to People connections can be  dishonest to a thing. The value of  honesty already falls further.. I am not some Luddite raging against technology I am just pointing out another factor reducing our tendency toward honesty.
I am sure  I do not have the big picture answers to what makes an Honest Man or how to make more of us Honest People. I do know that I have a dilemma.
Last month I bought an expensive camera lens that came with a $100 rebate. Knowing that I tend to forget to submit these on time i filled out the form immediately. In order to minimize fraud the lens company requires that you cut out a part of the box containing the serial number of the lens. There is only one of these. Otherwise, in theory, a dishonest person could send in multiple rebate requests.
I packed everything in an envelope but since I had no stamps the envelope sat in a jacket pocket — until one day when I was rushing to get out of a parking lot before the rates changed (it would have cost an extra $10) the envelope fell from my pocket. I discovered this much later. ( I will save for another post  the mixed emotions and how I beat my self up for hours. That has to do with other aspects of my twisted personality and nothing to do with being honest.)
The next day I called the lens company and explained my tale of woe to a very sympathetic employee. I went out of my way to explain that I understood the reason they require physical evidence of the purchase. That I was not looking to collect an an extra rebate just the one I had counted on when making the purchase. She had me scan and send the remaining documentation to her and said that she would do her best to get the rebate paid. She was true to her word and in a couple of weeks I had my check. At the time of our call we joked that maybe this envelope would be found (it was lost in downtown Chicago) and that the finder would even put a stamp on the envelope and mail it. Neither of us thought that this was a likely ending to the story.
Yet come New Years Eve Day, I received a letter from a man living in a small town in Wisconsin. He found and mailed my rebate on his vacation weekend in the Big City. I was floored. What a nice thing to do for a stranger.  I thought no more about it assuming that the lens company would notice the duplication and ignore the second rebate request.
Then in our electronically connected world I received an email from the company saying that my rebate has been processed and is in the mail. This email was almost identical to the one I had received 10 days before, shortly before my check had arrived. I said almost identical. The processing number was different and so I knew  a second check was on its way.
I had been mulling over this issue of honesty ever since it became a theoretical possibility. The email made it a high probability and the envelope I hold in my hand, presumably with a check inside, is the reality. This is not some random act of a mistake by some big faceless corporation. I had stated to a real person that I had no intention of defrauding them. She took me at my word. If she had not I would have been angry and frustrated. I was happy with getting what I deserved. Now I have more –and I don’t deserve it.  The devil on my left shoulder is saying that it will be more hassle than it is worth to return the check. After all, $100 will mean more to me than to some big corporation who should have had the systems in place so that this would not happen. Shame on them. I do not think that I need to tell you what the angel on my other shoulder is saying. Actually she is not saying a word knowing the greater impact this will have on me than a lecture about goodness would.
As I stated earlier what I eventually do will not be earth shattering. I am just not sure of the consequences to my little portion of it. If Diogenes walked through my house would he find what he was looking for?
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Toy Story 3

If I had a vote with the Academy I would nominate this for Best Picture. Not Best Animated, Best Picture.

So many movies today are bout the technology (e.g. 3D and/or computer enhanced action scenes) or about stars. Most of these movies forget the basics of a great  script, interesting characters you care about, and the right combination of storytelling combined with acting and cinematography.

Toy Story 3 has all the good and none of the bad movie stuff. By bad stuff I mean wacky or stupid characters put in for an attempt at a few laughs unconnected to the main story, at best one or two good lines, a few weak themes repeated throughout the movie, characters that bore you to tears and a plot that is totally unbelievable and not in a Sci-Fi.

I just watched a story about the secret life of toys and the plot was soooo much more believable than that of “Management” with Jennifer Aniston that we rented last night! This was a movie with a “star” but had all of the bad movie stuff referred to above.

Toy Story makes you laugh; provides action, suspense and excitement;, has multidimensional characters; pulls at your heartstrings; demonstrates values and just plain makes you feel good. The characters (toys remember) face problems with courage and cleverness, good triumphed over evil and all was right with world at the end. This was a great movie that was modestly enhanced by 3D, not a movie that succeeds because of the technology.

Unlike other late entries in movie  series,  TS3  improved upon while paying homage to the first two. The characters added new facets (you MUST see Spanish mode Buzz Lightyear). It provided a clean ending to the series without shouting to the world that there would be no more unlike another animated series.

It was such a sharp contrast to Management which we had just watched the night before as well as so many movies that have made in the past several years.

The ultimate tribute to this movie is that my 19-year-old son went with us. It was his second time in less than a week.

Toy Story 3, you got a friend in me.

The Onion Strikes Strikes a Blow For the Privileged

I have not checked out The Onion for quite awhile.  Based on this fantastic satire, Imay need to check out a few past issues. From the Onion website for 9/29/2008, here is the lead-in:

“In what local authorities are calling a “near tragedy,” Charles Wentworth, a 17-year-old Rutgers Preparatory senior and member of the affluent Wentworth family, came perilously close to suffering a consequence resulting from his own wrongdoing Saturday.”

Read the entire article here. Really, you must read it. This is the level of writing I aspire to.

Complaining: Doctor’s Orders

NPR airs a great series titled This I Believe which is a project getting people to write, share, and discuss the core values that guide their daily lives. The essays are archived and some are selected to become 3 minute orations on NPR.

This latest one struck a cord with with me especially after reading Frank’s post last Friday, Three Cranky Frankie Moments in One Day . In this post Frank complained a bit, justifiably I might add. However later in the comments he seemed apologetic about complaining. He was working on “mood improvement”.

My view is that a little complaining, even with a modest amount of wallowing in self pity, goes a long way to help get you through certain days. Sure if you go overboard it won’t help you and definitely not the ones forced to listen to you. But in moderation…

The next thing I know my amateur psychology is legitimized. By a psychotherapist no less. Professor Barbara Hand is the author of my soon to be favorite book “Stop Smiling, Start Kvetching”.  An excerpt from her essay for This I Believe follows.

Many Americans insist that everyone have a positive attitude, even when the going gets rough… The problem is that this demand for good cheer brings with it a one-two punch for those of us who cannot cope in that way: First you feel bad about whatever’s getting you down, then you feel guilty or defective if you can’t smile and look on the bright side…

I believe that there is no one right way to cope with all of the pain of living…I know that people have different temperaments, and if we are prevented from coping in our own way, be it “positive” or “negative,” we function less well.

…sometimes a lot of what people need when faced with adversity is permission to feel crummy for a while”

This last line says it all for me. Look, if you can be perpetually happy, more power to you. For me, I am on my way to find someone who will listen to me kvetch for awhile. 

Roger Federer: My New Hero

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The professional athlete as role model has taken a big hit in the last few years with Bonds assumed steroid use, Michael Vick’s cruelty and stupidity, and  defensive football players for the Chicago Bears either having shootings at their house or crashing their new Lamborghini and leaving the scene of the accident. Even this summer’s feel good story, Rick Ankiel reportedly used human growth hormones.

Then there is Roger Federer.  He has been by far the best tennis player in the world for a few years and may end up being recognized as one of if not the best in history by the time he is through. Tonight he won his fourth consecutive U.S. Open. It was not just that he won but how he won and how he comports himself.

Several times tonight it seemed as if he was being outplayed by 20 year old Novak Djokovic. Yet at every key moment, including 5 set points on Djokovic’s serve in the first set, Federer hit the big shot. He never let the pressure stop him — and there was tremendous pressure from his opponent’s shots and from Federer’s march on history.

Roger had to deal with strong play throughout the tournament. In the quarterfinals Roger had to weather Feliciano Lopez playing out of his ass in the first set. He played nearly flawless tennis in that set as Federer could only watch and wait. He knew that Lopez was unlikely to keep up that level of play and he did not panic. Instead he took the next three sets to win the match.

It is this composure under fire and the unwillingness to give up that I admire greatly. Even more than the grand slam titles that these characteristics have brought to him. (Even more than the $2.4 million and the new Lexus he won today.)

He showed his humanity and class today as well. He gave tribute to the great play of his opponent. (No Serena Williams saying her opponent hit lucky shots.) He also admitted that he has been nervous. While most people assume that given how many times he has been in the situation he would be used to it, he said that every grand slam final feels as important as the first.

There are no known incidents of public drunkenness, casting slurs, taking drugs or any of the “normal” activities we have learned to forgive of our star athletes. Maybe the Swiss do a better job of instilling values than parents do here.

I just hope that I can learn to be more like Roger and that I get many more opportunities to watch this world class athlete and human being.

Responsibility

When you experience a teenage boy, all of the good and all of the surly, sullen not so good remember the following. Your son at this age is part hormones, part finding his independence and part your influence. Yes, remember that many of the habits, actions and words are there because of the way that you raised him. (I assume that much is the same regarding female teenagers, I just do not have direct experience.)

So when I had the opportunity for another teaching/learning opportunity, I stood back to think about what I had and had not done in helping my son become a man. In the area of helping him learn to take responsibility I can give myself no more than a 5 on a 10 point scale. I have not been consistent enforcing rules, ensuring that chores get done or following through with consequences.

This is not to say that D has no sense of responsibility — that is not true. It is just not as developed as I would like. I have a highly if not overly developed sense of responsibility (which is a blog entry for another day).

This weekend he damaged my car. The fault was his alone. It was totally preventable. He woke me up to let me know about it and he was sincerely remorseful. Sometimes I think that he believes that is all that is needed. Being very angry that night I decided to wait until the next day to decide how to handle the situation.

 We did not see each other the next day until early evening. I asked him to meet me outside so we could survey the damage together. He explained again how it happened and I iterated that while I understood that it was not intentional, it was avoidable. Before I could say anything more he offered to pay $100 towards the repair. I thanked him for his offer knowing that was a material portion of his savings.

I had spent a good part of the day thinking about what to do. I decided that he needed to take full responsibility for the damage he caused. Yet I neither wanted him to begin to avoid all risks just to know that taking risks has consequences and that an adult learns to deal with the consequences of his actions.

I told him that he needed to fully pay for the repairs which I estimate will be at least several hundred dollars. To his credit he accepted my judgment though I was informed that it was a little “harsh”. We agreed on a plan that would combine cash payments and working off the remaining debt. He knows that I expect him to follow through on the chores even if it means giving up a night with his friends or a few hours of video games. He claims that he is committed.

You could feel the emotion in the air between us. He started to walk away but I motioned him to me and we hugged. I don’t get to do that as a matter of course any more. I told him that I loved him…and that was that.

I allowed myself a pat on the back for good parenting but only one. While I believe that I set a good example of how to deal with a serious issue with no yelling or anger, there is more to do. He needs to follow through on his responsibilities and so do I on mine. 

Lifetime Acheivement Beats 15 Minutes of Fame

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Actor Charles Lane recently died at the age of 102. He was a character actor. In fact one site I researched had as an executive summary “grumpy character actor”.  He never played in a starring role but he portrayed memorable characters in dozens of well known movies. Many of us will recognize his face. The great director Frank Capra used him in several films including the classic “Its A Wonderful Life”. He met Lucille Ball when she was still an RKO chorus girl, and the two became friends. Years later he was a frequent guest on “I Love Lucy” and appeared in one of that series’ most-watched episodes, the birth of Little Ricky, in 1953.

He acted well into his 90s. In all he appeared in 250 films and countless TV episodes. All-in-all a rich and full career.

When I read about people like Charles Lane my thoughts also turn to the anti-Lanes. This would include all of the poor mannered, rich, spoiled actors, singers, performers and celebrities that populate today’s culture and dominate the media. People who have turned one or two modestly good movies/songs/sex videos into far more than 15 minutes of fame and too much fortune.

What have they achieved? What will they do with their lives beyond their mid-20s? Will anyone care about them when they hit their 90s? Their 40s?

I do not know about the man that Charles Lane was but I appreciate and value the longevity of his contributions and his devotion to craft. There are certainly many people in other less public careers who demonstrate quiet competence or even excellence that will not get written up in the NY Times but deserve our respect. These are the folks that should be on the cover of People. These are the people that should inspire our children.

BTW. Does anyone know how Lindsey is doing after rehab?