“I cannot tell a lie.”
“I cannot tell a lie!” is a quote that has stuck with me since childhood. We remember it as attributed to a young George Washington spoken to his father when he was asked if he chopped down the cherished family cherry tree. “Yes! I cannot tell a lie.” George felled the famous tree, admitted it, and took the punishment.
This story about our first President immortalized him as the essential example of what honesty looks like and all Americans were expected to imitate. Our teachers raised George up and wanted us to follow his example.
We know the genuineness of that story is questioned, but its lesson of honesty is worthwhile and applicable for today. What is honesty? Honesty is living who we say we are. It makes others see us for who we are, what we stand for, and believe in us because our words and deeds match.
There is nothing false about us. We have no hidden agendas. We are not insidious. When we speak, no one wonders or doubts that there is anything clandestine going on that would suggest we are not being truthful.
Honesty highlights our integrity. If honesty is living who we say we are. Our integrity is saying who we say we are. When his father questioned George, his integrity made lying contrary to his character. He had to be who he said he was. He had to tell the truth. “I cannot tell a lie” ever!
Today these two virtues, honesty and integrity, need to re-enter our times. Recent public dialogue among government and church leaders show a neglect and disregard for these two virtues. Leaders trample the truth in their statements over and over again. Dishonesty happens so often that their integrity erodes as often as the ocean tides.
Our Church leaders’ honesty and integrity is razor thin by hiding the awful truth of clerical sexual abuse. The cover ups and the secret dealings to protect the Church from scandal placed children in harmful situations and that is the scandal. Their honesty and integrity are no longer “on lamp stands for all to see…”
George Washington didn’t know St Francis DeSales, but he surely followed his advice: “Be who you are and be that well as a witness to the master craftsman who created you.” With these words, DeSales hopes we will hold sacred the knowledge of where we came from and who made us. If we do, we would behave more like God with honesty and with integrity.
Whether a true story or not, George Washington teaches a good lesson on character building. Honesty and integrity are significant keystones of character. This moment may be a time for each of us to search our soul and spend time allowing our honesty and integrity to shine on our lamp stands for all to see. There is darkness out there. Let your light shine.