There’s a story told about a young soldier who was buying was newspaper from one of those machines where you put your money in, open the door and take out a paper from a stack of papers. The customer before the soldier had cheated, putting his money in for one paper and taking the whole stack out of the machine. He didn’t take the extra copies with him however. Instead he placed the whole stack on top of the machine for any passerby to take.
When the soldier approached the machine, intending to make a purchase, she thought about taking one of those “free” newspapers. After all, her income was small and she could have bought herself a cup of coffee with the money she would spend on the paper. She walked back and forth in front of the machine, weighing her options.
Finally, she put her money for one paper into the coin slot and opened the door to the paper access. Then, she took one paper from the stack on top and carefully put all the other newspapers back in the machine and closed the door.
Honesty is a value in all societies. It is what keeps order and peace within communities. It is a character trait that should be part of a person’s make up, part of her or his identity. When this soldier decided not to help herself to a newspaper and to right the wrong of another person, her integrity and honor was showing. Whether anyone was watching or not, she did the right thing.
Another story: a Jewish boy was anxious to fit in with his new middle school buddies. Upon entering the neighborhood drugstore, his friends dared him to shoplift a small item by hiding it in his jacket and walking out. The boy, anxious to impress his friends, put a couple of candy bars in his pocket. A few moments later, in his nervousness, he brushed his hand against his forehead. When he did, he touched his kippah, the small round head covering worn by boys and men in the Orthodox Jewish tradition. He remembered who he was.
That small gesture, brought on by anxiety, reminded the young man of his identity. He was not a shoplifter; he was an honorable and honest person. He knew that, as much as he wanted to be part of the group, his own integrity was worth more to him than questionable friendships.
He quietly placed the candy bars back on the shelf and left the drugstore, alone.
Honesty was part of his identity.
Ann Hayles has been a professional Catholic lay minister in Lee’s Summit since 1987. She is currently the Pastoral Coordinator at Holy Spirit Catholic Church in south Lee’s Summit.