Listen: Chris Witts presents Morning Devotions.
Orvon Grover “Gene” Autry was an American performer who gained fame as a singing cowboy on the radio, in movies, and on television for more than three decades beginning in the early 1930s. He died in 1998.
Do you remember seeing any of his movies? He was best known as the ‘singing cowboy’, and for the song “You are my Sunshine”. He began singing in the church choir at age five and was taught to play guitar by his mother when he was 12.
Gene Autry was born and raised in a Baptist family. His grandfather, who taught him to sing, was a Baptist preacher. But Autry was apparently not a churchgoer during most of his adult life. Autry had a well-earned national reputation as a clean-cut, wholesome, highly ethical entertainer and human being. His films were invariably family-friendly, and he deplored the violent, sexual, profane and vulgar content of the ‘westerns’ made after his era as a film actor. Nevertheless, he wrote in his 1978 biography that he was “not a devoutly religious man.”
But I am interested in something he said about honesty. It really made me think. Gene Autry said, “I have always followed the rule of 100% honesty in everything—honesty toward God, honesty toward others, and honesty towards myself”. I found that to be a fascinating comment, and a great principle to live by.
The Worth of Honesty
In 2008, the New York magazine ran a comprehensive article about research concerning kids and lying. In one study researchers gathered a group of children together and read them a version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf, where the little boy is eaten by the wolf because he lies. In a survey of adults taken before the study, most thought the negative consequences in The Boy Who Cried Wolf would lead the children to be more honest in controlled experiments on honesty and deceit.
However researchers observed that, after hearing the story, the children continued their usual rate of lying. Researchers then taught the story of George Washington and the cherry tree. In the story George goes to his father and confesses he cut down the tree. His father replies, “Hearing you tell the truth instead of a lie is better than if I had a thousand cherry trees.”
Researchers found that the story of George Washington and the cherry tree reduced lying by 43 percent. They concluded that the threat of punishment simply teaches children to learn how to lie better. When children learn the worth of honesty, as they did in the story of George Washington, they lie less.
The Lesson of Childhood Lies
In a final study, adults were asked to disclose the worst lie they ever told. Surprisingly, many adults talked about their childhood lies. Researcher Dr Bella DePaulo of the University of California, Santa Barbara, comments:
I had to reframe my understanding to consider what it must have been like as a child to have told this lie. For young kids, their lie challenged their self-concept that they were a good child and that they did the right thing.
Lies told during childhood affected their behaviour later on. If they got caught and felt bad, they vowed never to do it again. But if they were good at it and got away with it, they would lie more often into their teens and adulthood.
What is honesty and why is it so important? What’s wrong with a little white lie? The Bible actually has a lot to say about honesty. Jesus said he was the way, the truth, and the life. In him is all truth. If we follow in God’s footsteps, we will tell the truth always. No white lies. Proverbs 11:3 says: “Honesty guides good people; dishonesty destroys treacherous people.” (NLT)
Are you known to be a truly honest person, or do people have to question you and wonder about your genuineness? Mark Twain was right when he said, “The difference between a person who tells the truth and tells a lie is that the liar’s got to have a better memory.”
A school principal received a phone call. The voice said, Thomas Bradley won’t be in school today. The principal was a bit suspicious of the voice. He asked, Who’s speaking? The voice came back, My dad.
I think we all have something to learn on this subject—but God requires us to speak the truth and live without deceit.