At the heart of Deseret News efforts to shine a light on trust and integrity in 2019 is this simple question: Do moral principles still matter?
The short answer is “yes.” It sounds like a no-brainer.
You might think stopping any rational person on the street and asking the same question would yield the same answer. And you would be right. Of course people say they appreciate honesty in others. Of course telling the truth is a desirable attribute.
But for all the superficial value Americans ascribe to moral principles, their actions tell a different story.
From year to year, Americans are increasingly more comfortable with letting the little things slide, according to data collected by the Deseret News in the 2018 Ten Today survey.
That’s not to say the U.S. is a dishonest country. A large majority of Americans still think it’s “never okay” to cheat on one’s taxes or lie to a spouse about an affair, to name a couple of compromising scenarios.
The disturbing trend is the increasing number of respondents who have migrated to the “sometimes okay” and “always okay” categories. In 2006, more than half of Americans believed it never okay to call in sick to work without being ill, to lie to a child about one’s past behavior or to exaggerate the facts to make a story more interesting. Not one of these scenarios garnered a majority in 2018.
In fact, every measure of honesty monitored by the Deseret News has declined in the past 12 years. The breakdown between generations is as one might expect. From the silent generation down to millennials, compromising situations are, with few exceptions, viewed with more latitude as age groups get younger.
Tomorrow’s version of honesty could look very different from today’s if trends continue. The question, then, is should that matter? Moral relativists might hail it as society’s natural progression. Some may welcome a relaxed standard. It would certainly be helpful in learning how to bend the truth, per deception and trust researcher Maurice Schweitzer’s belief that “we should be teaching our kids, students and employees when and how to lie.”
But eliminating a standard of truth is sure to bring a tide of uncertainty, cynicism and corruption. Social science confirms the value of integrity, as will anyone who has ever made a business deal. Marriage counselors and researchers affirm healthy relationships thrive in an environment of open and honest communication. Trust underlies the most basic functions in society.26 comments on this story
While the country more or less remains on the positive side of truth-telling, cracks are clearly forming in a weakening foundation. That’s something to worry about, and it's time to have the right conversations about the role of integrity, honesty and truth before it's too late.
It’s hard to imagine a future in which the value placed on honesty and integrity drops completely to zero. Wise people in every generation will recognize the attributes of moral character and appropriately hang a high price on them, ensuring those with the foresight to cultivate honesty and integrity will be always in demand. But society is only as strong as its individual members, and when personal integrity begins to fade, so does the strength of everything else.