Friday, February 20, 2009
Two days ago my former graduate school professor interviewed me for a book she's writing. I had not seen her for thirteen years, and it was great to get a chance to sit and talk with an educator who played a role in making me the educator I am today. The interview began by her asking me to describe myself. I opened up with some basic details: Christian, a woman, African-American, a teacher, a daughter, a friend, blah, blah, blah. She followed this up by asking me for character descriptions. The first thing I said at that point was, "I'm honest." I was surprised that she countered that comment with a question: "Why do you mention that?" I had not thought about why I had said it, but forced to think about it, I responded, "Because that's a quality that is so rare these days. With corruption running rampant, honesty is worth mentioning."
This was the only answer throughout our interview where I was asked why I answered a particular way, and if I had thought about it then, I might have asked her why she questioned my answer. Perhaps she asked because a time existed when honesty did not need to be mentioned because it was a given. You just expected that people were honest and forthright, and so nobody thought to say, "Hey, I'm honest." Nowadays, however, we live in a time where the opposite is true. People expect people to lie and be corrupt. It's commonplace to hear people say of politicians, "I don't trust any of them." And as sad as that is, people have indeed given us reason to doubt. And this goes beyond party lines. Corruption has been all too common among Democrats, Republicans, and every other Party and institution known to man. But now it seems to be a job requirement! What's frightening is how people can look right into the camera, say, "I didn't do it," quote some philosopher or Bible verse, and do it all over again the next time.
When Roland Burris was appointed by impeached Governor Rod Blagojevich to fill the Senate seat vacated by President Obama, I thought, Now, why in the world would he want anything to do with the controversy attached to that seat? I wouldn't have wanted to touch it with a ten foot pole, but I defended Burris when people tried to blast him as an opportunist. Now I've had to stick my tail between my legs because he's the center of controversy. He sounds glaringly like the governor who appointed him when he says, "I didn't do anything wrong." A day or two later it turns out he actually did attempt to raise money for Blago. What in the world?! Now people are calling for him to step down from his senate seat. The man just barely sat down in it! More importantly, they're talking about perjury charges. If he had just been honest and transparent to begin with...But that probably wouldn't have served his purpose or gotten him that seat he seemed to want more than anything.
Are there honest people out there who truly just want to serve people, instead of just being self-serving people?! America is asking that question. But the American people are part of the problem. Unless we change our approach, we won't have honest people running for public office. And America, from my observation, doesn't really want people of character in important positions. Not really. When those people show up ready to serve, we beat the snot out of them. The media blasts them for being too family-oriented, or too folksy, or too red-neck, or too Christian, or too pro-life, or whatever problem we have with people who just want to serve. So the truth of the matter is we don't foster a climate where those people who have a heart to make a difference and to serve would want to step up and offer themselves. We only have to look as far as the 2008 election campaign to know what we are capable of doing to people. And unless we change our attitude, we're going to find ourselves continuing down the road we're on now, a road fraught with tax cheats, pay-to-play masterminds, and excuses. Slam the door on the excuses PLEASE. The American people are growing increasingly sick of hearing, "I know he cheated on his taxes, but he's the best person for the job." Are you kidding me?! What kind of message is that? No, if you're a liar and a cheat, you're NOT the best person for the job! In addition, in these economically challenging times--this big bail-out, big-government program era--we are rewarding people who have not met their obligations while punishing those who have. Likewise, in our leadership, we reward those who have been dishonest while beating the life out of those who have shown themselves to be people of character and integrity. It's got to stop--for the sake of America, our children, and our legacy. It just has to stop.
We need honest, transparent, principled people in leadership positions of our cities, our states, and our nation. This needs to become the norm and not the exception that it's developed into. Otherwise, we will continue to find it necessary to say, "I'm honest," which is something that should go without saying.