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David Hegg: Critiquing character, ethical fortitude

Ethically Speaking

Posted: May 13, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 13, 2012 2:00 a.m.

As ethics are the outworking of values, so also are actions the evidence of what really fills the heart. One of the hardest tasks we all face is determining the trustworthiness of those with whom we deal daily.

Which contractor should we use? Which dealership should we trust? Who can we believe? Where can we go to find an honest opinion and a fair deal? All these questions come back to the same starting point: How do we determine the character of those on whom we depend?

There is no one simple formula for assessing integrity and trustworthiness. There are, however, several tests, which, when taken together, can substantially validate a person’s character. One of them is the connection between what people say and what they really think.

In Matthew 12:34, Jesus said, “For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” If you listen long enough, you can usually determine a whether a person is committed to truth or simply a verbal pragmatist.

In the courts, witnesses are asked to swear an oath to offer honest testimony. It goes like this: Do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth?” Let’s take a closer look at this little test.

Imagine that you are staring at a blank sheet of paper with a horizontal line drawn across it about three inches from the top. Let’s call this line “the truth.” The witness is being called to hold that line, to tell the truth. Further, he or she is required not to go above it or fail to come up to it.

If the witness fails to come up to the line, he or she has not told the whole truth. There is more to the story that needs to be told, but the witness has stopped short. This gives the impression that part of the truth is enough. However, leaving out parts of the truth fails to reach the line.

If he or she goes above the line, he or she has told more than the truth. The witness has gone past what is true and added other information that now is masquerading as truth. This greatly confuses the issue, since material has now been admitted into evidence that has no bearing on what really happened.

In assessing character nothing is more useful than listening to what someone says. We simply have to ask: Do they say what they mean, and mean what they say? Are they clear about the truth and careful to hold the line? Or are they purposefully vague, interested in maintaining wiggle room and plausible deniability? Are they given to be self-protective at the expense of the truth or are they comfortable divulging what they really believe?

The great band The Who had a song that is now featured as the theme of a popular TV drama. It asks a penetrating question, “Who are you?”

In every relationship be it in business, politics or our personal lives, this question is paramount. Who are you, really, when no one is looking, when there are no recording devices or cameras around? The only way we’ll know the truth is if you tell it to us. Please hold the line. Be a person of integrity. Tell us what you think and who you are, and then stick to it.

Increasingly, our national ethic is eroding to the place where duplicity is considered finesse, and the ability to spin is seen as essential. But giving in to this sort of pragmatic activity is really the road to ruin.

We hunger for friends and leaders who will have a settle conviction and be unafraid to present it, define and defend it, and then stand up for it without wavering. Character is king, and those who have it and can express themselves clearly and consistently deserve to be listened to, followed and modeled. We just need to find them.

David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church and a Santa Clarita resident. “Ethically Speaking” runs every Sunday.


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