by Rubel Shelly
Published in LoveLines (Mar. 13, 1996)
Personal honesty among the young is not faring well. A major new study says an increasing number of teens are willing to lie, cheat, and steal to get their way. A three-year study of 11,000 high school students, collegians, and adults says an already-bad problem is getting worse.
Among high school students, 37 percent of respondents say they stole something from a store in the past 12 months. That figure is up from 33 percent in 1993. Sixty-five percent admit they cheated on an exam, up from 61 percent.
Seventeen percent of college students surveyed say they stole something in the past year, and 24 percent say they would lie to get or keep a job. Both those figures represent increases from 1993.
The Josephson Institute of Ethics released its 1996 report with the comment that its findings point to "an absolute erosion of the American character."
So it was encouraging to read an Associated Press report about a pair of honest young men. Chris Pizzimenti and James Denisco, both 13, live in Bensonhurst, New York. They found someone's belongings left behind at a phone booth — a student ID, a passport, and $4,000 in cash.
Dennis and James did the right thing. They found the Malaysian to whom the items belonged and returned them.
Some young people seem not to have a clue about right and wrong. Perhaps they are just watching and imitating the adults in their lives. The Josephson Institute survey found that 47 percent of adults in their study say they probably would accept an auto body shop's offer to include unrelated damages on an insurance claim.
Animal instincts may incline us toward self-gratification, but our humanity calls us to act nobly and with principle. "I'm only human" ought never to be an excuse for doing wrong but always an incentive and explanation for doing right.
Our capacity for acting as humans rather than as cockroaches is our nobility. And honesty is one of the noblest of human actions.
Honesty isn't just the best policy, it is the right policy.
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