I was shocked to read in a newspaper, recently, that many youngsters see nothing particularly wrong in shoplifting; fiddling Social Security; attacks on property; taking a car for a joyride; insulting or bothering strangers; prostitution and smoking cannabis. This made me really think.
Is honesty the best policy? Why? Just what good does it do to be an honest and upright citizen? When you read reports of the number of people in positions of trust who use that very trust to enrich themselves, what does it say to the youngsters? "Don’t get caught" is all. No one knows how much crime of a large scale goes undetected В so why not try it on a small scale? Just how many people fiddle their Income Tax, Social Security, their own firms? Where do you draw the line? Is it the size of an operation that makes it illegal? You know: a pen brought home from the office, a private call on the Firm’s phone in the Firm’s time, photocopying using the Firm’s paper and machine В are these acceptable because they’re so small? Never mind what justification you can think of for it, it is dishonest and we all do it to some extent. It is to our benefit to do so: so does honesty pay? If dishonesty pays for us older people, should we not expect it to pay for the youngsters as well?
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You might say "Crime causes feelings of guilt and fear of being found out". But does it? This may apply to someone engaged in large-scale crime who was originally law-abiding В but for petty things? Perhaps some people find that threat a fillip, an added spice to an otherwise dull existence. Perhaps they just do not feel guilty at all В how do we know? They’re not going to go around telling anyone what they feel, are they? Guilt may well be the ‘curse’ of older folk brought up on the mores of honesty, disapproval of crime, and the belief that the criminal gets caught and punished and that therefore there is a degree of shame attached to wrongdoing. How much influence on adults’ attitudes did the Church have? The awful threat that God could see everything that you did and would punish you severely for whatever you did wrong В how much effect did that have? For how long? Did there come a time when, after judicious experimenting, you realized that God wasn’t bothered about your wrongdoing or maybe didn’t even see it? Does this apply to youngsters today? The fear of chastisement from one or other of one’s parents was quite a strong deterrent; I wonder just how much response children get from their parents these days. From what one sees of children’s behavior at school, and young people’s attitude at work, I don’t think there can be much. In the past the police were a much greater influence, too. They could give summary discipline on the spot and the young offender would have to take it and learn from it. Can you imagine that happening today? The parents would most likely complain about police behavior, first! Think about shop-lifting and the way it sends up the cost of goods to the legitimate customer. Yet youngsters appear to think a small amount of shoplifting is OK. What makes them think this? Upon what do they base their judgement? Is it that they can’t see that there is anything wrong, or do they get such a kick out of it it’s worth the risks? Do they think they’ll get off lightly if they’re caught? All too often they will!
What about stealing through fiddling the Social Security or the taxman, or whatever amorphous ‘department’ you care to think of? There seems to be an attitude of it being a game and the best one wins: you win if you can get away with it and you lose if you can’t and have to pay up. The untaxed ‘cash payment’ or the backhander; the plain omission of amount or information that would result in taxation; the payment in kind; or simple dishonesty and fraud, are all forms of stealing. There are enough legal loopholes as it is without having to defraud the DHSS or the IR or whoever. Yet this seems to be almost an acceptable thing. The same as avoiding paying car tax or TV licenses. The honest person pays through the nose for those who don’t pay at all. There doesn’t seem to be enough peer pressure to right or even to prevent these frauds; so if adults are behaving thus, how can one expect young people to be any different? Surely they are going to follow the examples set to them? Similarly with smoking cannabis: if their Pop Idols do so, why shouldn’t they? How can one persuade them otherwise?
Prostitution is another thing youngsters see no harm in. (The newspaper report didn’t say how many girls В as opposed to boys В gave this point of view.) Again they could be aping their elders. What sort of standards do we set them? How do they arrive at these opinions? Indeed, what knowledge or experience do they have to go on to form their opinions? Surely it is only hearsay В but I fear it may not be. Should they gain information of such things from the newspapers? (And how could one prevent them,?) It is something that they can read well enough to read a newspaper! Should items such as Cynthia Payne and her ‘parties’ be omitted from TV and papers? Do the kids give any thought to the ramifications of illicit sex? Probably not, alas. It would seem that a number of adults don’t, either.
So far, to some extent, they are following in their elders’ footsteps; but what about joy-riding in cars? This seems to me to be much more of a young person’s activity than an older one’s. Where do they get the idea that this is OK? Their attitude seems to be "What’s yours is mine and what’s mine is my own", and therefore they have as much right to another’s possessions as they want В regardless of what it might mean to the owner. Is it "easy come, easy go" for their own belongings and so they see ownership in a different light from other people? Are they able to replace damaged goods so easily and uncaringly that it doesn’t occur to them what more damage than intrinsic worth they are doing when they take a car or damage property? It may be a sign of growing older that one acquires chattels for the memories or pleasure they bring, which then makes them irreplaceable. Perhaps this is something young people have to grow into before they can realize what hurt they are causing by attacking property and effects. Until then, I suppose, it’s just a game to them; a way of showing their worth, their ‘derring-do’ to their peers.
Also, according to the report, a large proportion of young people consider it trivial to insult or bother strangers В as long as they are not attacked sexually! They obviously have no idea how upsetting, frightening even, (and certainly unpleasant) such an experience is for the people so abused В whether men or women В and especially for older folk. This, again, seems to be something they’ve thought up for themselves В I hope! I can’t imagine any circumstances by which they would learn this from adults. But why do they do it? What pleasure and satisfaction does it give them? I assume that it makes them feel big and important; that someone is taking notice of them; I can only assume they choose this way as it’s the easiest and most immediate. I think this, again, is something that can best be dealt with by peer pressure В but can’t think how it might be brought about.
How has this climate of dishonesty arisen? It is a recent phenomenon for the most part. From what I’ve read and heard, in the past, even in the poorest areas it was safe to leave one’s door unlocked, whether one was in or out. Why has this changed? Is it because we now have so many moveable, saleable goods that there is more temptation? Is it because we make more show of what goods we have: a second TV, a third or fourth radio, a video recorder now, and so forth, so that more people know what we have in our houses? With so many expensive ‘toys’ on display in the shops, on TV and hoardings, in papers and magazines, it is not easy to accept the fact that they are beyond one’s reach. That these are not necessities but luxuries that can be done without no matter what one’s friends or neighbors might have.
It also seems to me that the whole ‘climate’ of honesty/dishonesty has changed and this is how, I think, it has happened. In the past, looting was part of a soldier’s pay, quite likely the only pay he got. Even in the First World War a soldier’s pay was not much and he was inclined to supplement it in whatever way he could; and here his uniform anonymity was in his favor. Items could go missing and be blamed on war damage or loss. this was even more apparent in the second World War: goods were ‘liberated’ and ‘re-deployed’ on an unheard of scale and no one seemed to really object. |There was a good market and no questions asked for whatever became available from whomever had items to offer. After the war, while there was still rationing, the same black market applied and I think it has continued thus up to the present time. The things that ‘fall off the back of a lorry’ and are sold cheaply; the overload of work the police have to contend with (which means much petty crime just doesn’t get investigated); the general attitude of acceptance, all conspire to make honesty less attractive. The small instances of dishonesty get passed over and ignored, the large instances of dishonesty get a lot of publicity some time after the crime was done and the punishment is very often meagre. The sheer volume of delinquency super-saturates our senses and begins to wash over us unregarded, so that we become numbed by it all: if you’re struggling for your life in the sea, which wavelet do you attempt to survive first?
It makes me wonder if honesty is the best policy В but if it isn’t, what is going to happen to us all В especially the youngsters who will be the parents of the following generations? Is it possible that they have the right attitude to honesty? Has my upbringing been wrong for this time in our evolution? Honestly, what do you think?
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