I was listening to the television the other night, trying to catch the news. (I know -that’s almost an oxymoron.) There was an expose on the local station concerning fraud in the auto repair business. A hidden camera filmed the people working at the station telling the customer that he needed a number of auto parts repaired or replaced. The previous check in by an independent mechanic showed the car to be in perfect working order. The car was brought back a week later by a different driver to the same station. He was again told that the parts supposedly replaced last time needed replacement. When confronted with the deception, the owner shrugged his shoulders and walked away.
Several things struck me about this story. I wondered how prevalent the deception was, for certainly all the honest mechanics were being labeled as cheats by implication. I asked myself, "How do these people sleep at night?" I also wondered at the apparent lack of enforcement weeding out deceptive business practices. There’s a lot of fear mongering by the media, and I suspect this has a lot to do with our perception that our fellow human beings are worse people than an objective assessment would document. Having said that, there have been a number of objective studies documenting a decline in the level of honesty of the people in our country. Whether it’s a percentage of people who would cheat on examinations, taxes, spouses, or their jobs, integrity seems to be on the decline. What is more disturbing to me is our society’s seeming indifference and acceptance of this change. Who can muster indignation at another dishonest public official or business leader? What is worse are those who claim to want to reform the system, then turn out to be the same as the people they replace.
In order for a society to function, there has to be a commonly held trust in the institutions and leaders of that society. This in turn can only come from a set of shared values and beliefs which are promulgated and sustained by the people who make up the society. Legislation and police are not sufficient to enforce strictures people have not internalized and accepted. If we do not teach our children the difference between right and wrong, if we look the other way while harm is being done to another, then we have little hope that things will improve. We desperately need leaders who will embody the values that we as society need for our survival. We cannot afford to throw up our hands, shrug our shoulders, and say " that’s just the way things are." I again remember that slogan from the sixties, "If you are not part of the solution, then you are part of the problem." Any of you have any ideas here, feel free to chime in.