After visiting a friend in the neighborhood, I stopped at the adjacent grocery
store to pick up some milk and a tub of cottage cheese. The young man at the
counter put them in a bag for me, and I placed it in the trunk of my
But when I got home, the only thing in the bag was the
“The cottage cheese must have stayed in the store,” I told myself
regretfully, having planned to incorporate it into that night’s
Several days later, I returned to the makolet
, and explained. The
same young man looked bewildered, but indicated that I should help myself to
another tub of cheese. For the sake of good relations, his gesture seemed to
imply, let’s assume the customer (however weird) is always right.
couple of weeks after that, I was cleaning out the trunk of my car, which sort
of dips down toward the back, when my fingers closed around... a tub of cottage
“Goodness,” I said. “It must have rolled out of the bag and out
of sight.” (By then, of course, it was beyond human consumption.)
SO what would
you have done? Called it an innocent mistake and shrugged – for what’s a measly
tub of cottage cheese to a successful grocery business? – or trudged back to the
store and paid those extra few shekels?
The fact that I did go back was not
because of any intrinsic virtue on my part, but because the incident nagged at
me. I felt as if my balance amid the general flow of things had been upset, as
if a hole had been made in the fabric of trust between myself and the makolet
assistant – however fleeting our connection – and there was only one way to
In case you’re thinking, “What a goody-goody,” let me confess
that I have been using, for at least two years, a towel I mistakenly took home
from the spa of a Dead Sea hotel. My intention has always been to return it, but
it hasn’t happened yet.
ALL this talk of towels and cheese is pretty
small potatoes, you may argue, when it seems like every day the media are
blaring out some new revelation of embezzlement and fraud on a grand scale,
often by public officials. Surely a few shekels don’t count very much in the
larger scheme of things?
Maybe not. But what about tens of thousands of shekels?
My friend lost her diamond engagement ring last year, and made a claim to the
insurance company, which eventually paid her NIS 30,000. Then, one day, her
cleaner came across the ring in an otherwise empty carrier bag while dusting the
bottom of a closet.
My friend and her husband didn’t hesitate: Feeling by
then no great sentimental attachment to the ring, they promptly sent it along to
the insurance company – which declared itself astounded. It was the first time,
they said, that they could recall anyone doing anything like it. And they sent
the couple a huge bouquet of flowers in gratitude.
FORGET my cheese; this
last is an example of serious honesty. Because many quite decent people,
consciously or unconsciously, would draw a moral line between individuals and
large companies. While they wouldn’t dream of defrauding a person, a company
feels different, removed.
A big company is faceless, and there’s a
sneaking sense that no great harm is being done. Some companies may even
My friend commented that people they told the story to
either “said we were mad,” or “felt that since we had been paying insurance all
these years, we deserved to keep the ring.”
(If we’re talking about
honesty, let’s not forget the cleaner, who could easily have slipped the diamond
ring into her pocket without anyone being the wiser.)
Governments also seem
faceless, and all too frequently uncaring. And it’s a truism that they waste
colossal amounts of our hard-earned money. That fact makes many people
quite comfortable about leaving their assets undeclared and their taxes unpaid –
when they can get away with it.
Two questions: If you pay up only out of
fear of being caught, does that make you less than honorable? And if you pay up
regardless, does that make you a sucker? It might depend on which day of the
week you ask.
TOTAL honesty between couples is often touted as something
to aspire to. But is it always the best policy?
Many couples pride themselves on
being completely open with each other. But when one’s honesty comes slap-bang up
against the other’s confidence and self-image, the relationship itself ends up
Lying – the opposite of truth-telling – is regarded as bad.
But tact and diplomacy, which both involve omission and evasion, are generally
viewed as admirable.
Clearly, this total honesty business isn’t so
The question most boyfriends and husbands fear is: “Does this
dress make me look fat?”
Whatever the truth, I pity the man who says, “Yes.” The
one who, instead, answers, “No,” – (white lie) – “but I think the green dress
makes you look wonderful; it brings out the color of your eyes,” is being
mindful of his partner’s feelings and creating a caring bond.
much to be said in favor of the white lie that spares another grief or
“In my opinion,” writes one insightful blogger, “clinging to
naked brutal honesty even when it will cause pain can at times be an act of
selfish egotism rather than a virtue. A person who never tells a white lie is
cruel and apparently places a greater value on their own self-image than they do
on helping others.
“One should not butcher the truth for selfish reasons
or to avoid blame, but a bit of twisting and stretching to spare someone else
pain is often OK, especially if you follow the white lie with enough truth to be
TO my father, of blessed memory, one dress or outfit looked
like every other. The difference between clothed and naked, he could tell;
beyond that, all women’s apparel was much of a muchness.
But he knew that
my mother cared about her appearance, and he didn’t want to take any chances; so
just about every time they went anywhere, he would compliment her on “your
lovely new dress.”
We all used to laugh about it.
ONE of the
hardest things is to be honest with ourselves, mainly because we are all such
masters at rationalizing our motivations and actions. That is why an honest
relationship with another person – partner or friend – is such a blessing,
provided the honesty is tempered with kindness.
“We should bestow on
another person what we would bestow upon a picture,” someone once said, “and
that is the advantage of a good light.”
MARK Twain, in 1885, wrote a
delightful essay called “On the decay of the art of lying.”
universal – we all do it,” he said. “Therefore the wise thing is for us
diligently to train ourselves to lie thoughtfully, judiciously; to lie with a
good object, and not an evil one; to lie for others’ advantage, and not own own;
to lie healingly, charitably, humanely, not cruelly, hurtfully,
“Then shall we be great and good and beautiful, and worthy
dwellers in a world where even benign Nature habitually lies, except when she
promises execrable weather.”