An Old Fashioned Value

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When my father was growing up life seemed so much more straightforward and simpler. There were many things that marked that timeframe during which he was growing up in the early twentieth century. Men knew most of the other men they did business with and that included their reputation and character. There wasn’t a need many times for a lengthy legal document to outline the terms of a deal or commitment. Sometimes the deal was sealed with a handshake because you knew the person was trustworthy.

When handshakes are thought to have started back in the fifth century in Greece, they represented a symbol of peace because it demonstrated the other person was not carrying a weapon.

The pandemic over the past year has eliminated handshaking broadly for everyone as too risky a behavior in passing along the virus to someone else, but the value of the handshake as a mark of character and trustworthiness was already diminishing. It was “common” for anyone and everyone to do and it seems no one thought much about its meaning or if it even had a meaning beyond a simple gesture.

I don’t think fist bumps and other popular ways of greeting one another in recent years offers much true symbolism. I am an old-fashioned girl who is proud of the integrity of my father who I still hear spoken of in our community as one who was such a man of high moral character even 25 years after his death.

A man’s (or woman’s) word was his (or her) honor or bond back then. Breaking it (with or without a handshake) was noted as a thing of disgrace. Perhaps that was because there was an inherent understanding of a principle that we stopped heeding long ago: if actions or deeds do not match the words, trust the actions rather than the words.

Too often words are used to try to convey something that will make us look good or gain some privilege or favor from someone else. From childhood onward we learn how we can use words for our advantage, but we don’t always learn the consequences of false promises or using words to gain something without ever intending to keep the promises we have vowed. It’s part of the habit of wearing an invisible mask to keep the truth of who we are hidden. Sadly, long before masks were mandated it became common to keep much about what we exposed about ourselves concealed. Little wonder that the depth of relationships also has eroded as well.

“The first requirement in a personal relationship is to be ourselves. Off with the masks. Away with the pretense.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

Little wonder that we have lost whatever moral compass we once had. The modern era we live in finds us doing business and making deals with people and businesses owned and run by men and women we have never met. Even if we were in a room and could do a handshake, we wouldn’t have the same amount of information to know if it were a trustworthy enterprise.

Integrity between persons, businesses of all kinds, institutions, and governments are often rare. The name of the game is to “get ahead” and “look good” or “climb the ladder” and do whatever it takes to accomplish it.

“Integrity means continuity. The word itself comes from the Latin word integer, meaning ‘entire,’ or ‘whole.’ It means coherence, unity, soundness. With integrity, things are not ambiguous. There is clarity, morally or otherwise. To have integrity means to have an absence of duplicity. In ethics, it means to have consistency of character or uncorrupted virtue. A man of integrity has his words and deeds integrated, with no sunlight in between the two.”

Charles Causey in Words and Deeds: Becoming a Man of Courageous Integrity

This is a very powerful description from Charles Causey from his book that I reviewed in 2018. It is clear this U.S. military chaplain understands well the moral center that should guide our lives.

Why have our priorities changed, our values shifted?

It’s likely that we made one little compromise so long ago that we cannot even recall. Over time, compromise became a habit we barely noticed and with it the trustworthiness of our words began to erode. Meanwhile we failed to notice that others noticed that our words were often meaningless, self-serving, and not indicative of character or integrity at all. After all, wasn’t everyone doing it? We listened to ads and then discovered they were not representing the truth. We listened to people in a wide array of positions and trusted them only to discover they had not spoken the whole truth to us.

“The setting of priorities is not a once-and-for-all act. It has to be redone frequently. Balances shift. Circumstances change. Moods swing. Is it still God, in fact, with whom I have first of all to do, or is it not? Prayer is the place where priorities are reestablished.”

Eugene Peterson in Run with the Horses

Jesus makes clear the value of words and deed matching in a parable in Matthew:

28 “Tell me what you think of this story: A man had two sons. He went up to the first and said, ‘Son, go out for the day and work in the vineyard.’ 29 “The son answered, ‘I don’t want to.’ Later on he thought better of it and went.30 “The father gave the same command to the second son. He answered, ‘Sure, glad to.’ But he never went. 31-32 “Which of the two sons did what the father asked?”

Matthew 21:28-32 (MSG)

The famous molder of children’s character, Mary Poppins, spoke of the peril of making pie crust promises. You may recall that she told the children they were ones that were easily made, but easily broken as well.

Maturing should mean no longer making pie crust promises and remembering the value of our words. They can slip out easily but can leave a trail of chaos in their wake. It’s long past time to consider the values and moral compass guided by words and actions matching, no matter who is saying them or how much we want to believe them.

7 thoughts on “An Old Fashioned Value

  1. Pam, this is a brilliant analyses of the current state of trustworthiness in the world at large. I was just thinking this morning about the importance for me to live the words that I preach. Hypocrisy is something that happens to all of us but not exactly the way I want to live my life. So when I find that my actions are not in agreement with my words, I reevaluate the disconnect and figure out how to live the words I speak. Authenticity and honesty seem to be traits that are fading and I am committed to keep them alive.


    1. You are so kind, Shelbee. And you are so right…it begins with each one of us. We need to ask ourselves when we see untrustworthiness in others and criticize if we are guilty as well (even some of the time). I agree that authenticity and honesty are virtues that seem to be fading and it will make authentic relationships difficult for one and all.💝

  2. It is interesting that integrity seems to be the theme in all the blog posts I am reading today! Hmm…I think God is trying to drop a not-so-subtle hint for me!

    What is interesting is that people kept their word much better in the small town in Michigan where we grew up, compared here in the Houston area. I absolutely love it better here, but I do get frustrated by that. It might be more of a generational and cultural shift, than a regional difference though.

    1. I think we are watching the world around us upended and sorting out who and what to trust seems to lead us to this key value (integrity) and hopefully challenge us to not just look for it in others, but examine if it is a hallmark of our character as well!

      I think the shift can be both/and related to what you note. There seem to be greater and greater differences in major metropolitan areas and population on the coasts of the country, but that doesn’t account for all of the erosion.

      So appreciate you taking time to comment and stop by to read.😊

  3. Oh, Pam, this is filled ways I remember so very well, and miss so very much. I love Mr. Causey’s quote…as well as the others’ words. A time…a time truly of integrity I miss dearly. My parents taught us these ways. We were a military family. Daddy a Navy doctor. The way we answered the phone, the way we always said “please” and “thank you,” the way we respected those older than we were, so much is missing these days, it seems (although I am around a few Christian families who are still teaching some of this). I found my father’s six-month evaluations over his 20+ years in the Navy. That kind of man is so rare today. I am so proud to be his daughter. He was filled with what you write about this day. Thank you for reminding me.

    1. I hear you, Linda. My husband was a Marine Corps officer and holds these values dear to this day! We have grandsons who are 23, 21, and 16 and have been taught these as well, but it is rare indeed.♥️

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