Recent experiences as a civil court juror could provide column fodder for months, maybe even years. Today’s subject is honesty.
The plaintiff in the case on which I served claimed debilitating injuries as a result of an automobile accident. Investigating officers reported that the man refused medical treatment at the scene, assuring them he was uninjured.
Evidence included several detailed photographs of the vehicles involved in the accident taken by the plaintiff. He had done this, he said, “in case he needed them later.” He even collected names and addresses of the others involved in the multi-car pile-up, promising to mail them copies of the photos “in case of a lawsuit.” He said he always traveled with a camera on the front seat of his car.
As details emerged in the case, jurors learned that this man was no stranger to accidents or court rooms. When he slipped and fell on the floor of a grocery store, he sued the store and was awarded a sizable sum.
On another occasion, he slipped and fell outside a restaurant. He sued the restaurant and received another settlement.
While traveling on business and staying in a motel, he slipped in the shower and fell. He sued the motel chain and again received compensation.
We listened to hours of depositions, testimony and cross-examination and viewed numerous pieces of evidence. During jury deliberations, the pleasant and distinguished-looking Church of Christ minister in our group remained noticeably quiet. When the foreman asked him if he had any comment, his calm disappeared as he colorfully characterized the man as a “liar and a professional con-man.” He was not the only one who had come to that conclusion.
I don’t know if this was a professional con-man. I do believe this man’s view of reality was completely distorted. His self-deception was such a part of him that for him it had become truth.
He did not perceive his actions to be dishonest, and he didn’t think he was cheating anyone. He thought he was entitled to what he sought. Others disagreed and viewed it as trying to cheat the system.
“Could it be,” asks Baptist pastor Gary Burton, “that all sin begins with our willingness to believe what is false?”
David Callahan has written a fascinating book, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead. The picture he paints of our overall integrity is not a flattering one.
“American values have changed since the 1970s,” Callahan’s Web site states. “We have become more selfish, more focused on money, and more cutthroat. Cheating takes on a life of its own. People cheat because ‘everybody does it.'”
The Web site, www.cheatingculture.com, includes scores of examples from fields such as accounting, corporations, education, insurance, journalism, law, medicine, science and sports. If you’re looking for illustrations to broaden your own and others’ understanding of what it means to “bear false witness,” this is a great place to start.
Being honest involves more than telling the truth. Anything we say or do that misrepresents reality is a violation of the ninth commandment.
God warned us against bearing false witness because God knows that healthy, stable relationships and community life begin on a foundation of honesty and trust.
Jan Turrentine is managing editor of Acacia Resources.