Cardinal’s Comment: Honesty – it will always be the best policy
Hilaire Belloc was an English Catholic writer who died in 1953 after writing a bit of everything, and some wonderful children’s poems. Today we would say they are not politically correct, but even then their moral ruthlessness and cheerful cruelty delighted youngsters of every age.
One of his best known efforts was about young Matilda who “told such dreadful lies it made one gasp and stretch one’s eyes”. Cared for by her aunt and left alone at home she called the London fire brigade, falsely alleging her home was on fire. The firemen searched high and low “until Matilda’s aunt succeeded in showing them they were not needed”. Soon after a fire did break out when her aunt was at the theatre and Matilda was home alone as punishment for her untruthfulness. The inevitable happened. “For every time she shouted ‘Fire!’ They only answered ‘Little Liar’!” And therefore when her aunt returned Matilda, and the house, were burned”.
This is a modern reworking of Aesop’s most famous fable of the shepherd boy who was bored and called the locals to defend his sheep against an imaginary wolf. After a couple of false alarms the people ignored his cries for help and refused to come when there was a real attack. The shepherd boy lost all his sheep.
At home and at school as a youngster I lived in an atmosphere of truth. People then realised that we learn from our mistakes and were perhaps too quick to point out inconvenient truths. But there was never any climate of deception and common opinion among young and old admired those who told the truth, even when this meant they had to take their medicine, some appropriate punishment.
A good society can only function when it is founded on the trust that is built up by people regularly telling the truth. If lying becomes so common that we cannot trust one another, a climate of suspicion develops which can degenerate into believing the worst about many of our neighbours.
+ George Cardinal Pell
Thank you for visiting the Catholic Weekly Online. To read this article in full, please subscribe to the print edition, or buy the paper for $1 at your local NSW Catholic church. Click here to email comments to the editor.