Is your honor important to you?

We’ve always had scandals, but we never used to have so many

Have you ever read the Declaration of Independence? Principally authored by Thomas Jefferson, it is a formidable document, which announced the founding of our country and our rationale for dissolving our allegiance to Great Britain. I’ve always been particularly impressed with the last sentence: “And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

What do our political leaders risk today besides somebody else’s money? The signers of the declaration knew what they were risking, and the most important of the three was their sacred honor. Imagine, their honor was more important than their lives or their fortunes!

Nowadays, a lot of people don’t even understand the concept of honor. The dictionary’s first definition is, “honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s beliefs and actions.” The reason honor was sacred is that a true gentleman and/or lady would rather die honorably than live shamefully. Being caught lying, cheating or doing something reprehensible would destroy the reputation and worth of the person.

There were scoundrels to be sure, and some of them posed as honorable people, but losing one’s honor was usually final. It was nearly impossible to redeem, and being dishonored meant being ostracized from polite society.

Is your honor important to you? I’m not suggesting we settle our disagreements with dueling pistols, swords, harakiri or any other sort of violence. Rather, I’m trying to show just how important living honorably used to be. The consequences of being caught not doing so were quite the deterrent.

When we look at all our political scandals, they’re the result of people not living honorably. We’ve always had scandals, but we never used to have so many. What’s even worse, when people get caught, there’s seldom any shame. It’s like everybody does it, what’s the big deal?

And of course, we have plenty of scandals in the business world. CEOs and other high-ranking executives go to jail. Insider trading is almost a sport — just don’t get caught. The shame, if there is any, is not in the deed but in getting caught.

John Kapoor and some of his executive team at Insys are on their way to jail. Insys is a pharmaceutical company that manufactures opioids, highly addictive pain medication. To boost business, they were seducing doctors into prescribing this medication where it wasn’t warranted with disastrous consequences. They even hired an exotic dancer as a salesperson to do lap dances for doctors and persuade them.

Regardless of how attractive the lap dancer may be, I can’t imagine an honorable doctor prescribing opioids to patients unnecessarily. It’s like giving them a death sentence, but it happened. It may take years to round up all the guilty people. And of course, we have to keep building new prisons to handle the unprecedented volume of criminals.

Many crimes are not this serious. A few days after returning from six weeks in Asia, I got called in to discuss expense accounts. Although I had paid for all the business entertaining, a member of our group had a much higher expense account than mine. How could this be? What could he have spent the money on?

As it turns out, he had bought a number of hand-tailored suits in Hong Kong, among other things. He actually bragged about it.

When we think of improving performance, if there was a magical way, we could make everyone honorable, performance levels would skyrocket. The old adage, “An honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay,” would become more popular. Employees would be honor-bound to do their best and employers would be honor-bound to reciprocate with great raises.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Salem, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or

Categories: Business Advice