“Honesty: The best of the lost arts” – Mark Twain

Is honesty really a lost art? Have we become so disconnected from that element of ‘morality’?

I work at a University library, with people ranging from 17 to ‘n’ (there is no upper limit of age…at least not that I could state definitively). I put the age range here purely to indicate the cross section of society I am dealing with… generally however; they are about 17/18-21 for the Undergraduates and 21+ for the post graduates. In this instance I will assume all UG’s are 18-21 simply to demonstrate the demographic I am referencing and also because these are the people I come across the most.

Generally I find their honesty to be of a high standard (unless they are trying to get out of fines and then a small number will try it on… as if the staff were born yesterday) and where it fails to maintain that standard is the ‘little stuff’ where it doesn’t actually matter per se.

For example;

Me: “Please don’t bring your food into the library!”

Student: “Oh. But I wasn’t going to eat it!” (Incredulous, slightly hurt, voice)

99% of the time the veracity of this reply doesn’t really bear thinking about. Let’s face it, they brought the food in, odds are pretty high that they’re going to snaffle it at some point whilst on the premises, it’s just how it is. We ‘patrol’ which is one of the most demeaning and pointless parts of my job, they are not in High School and I hate treating them like they are… plus, I just don’t care. I’d rather they didn’t eat, the resulting mess can be an absolute nightmare but ultimately it’s not going to affect the state of the nation. Policing this kind of honesty is vexing simply because it is so easily avoidable. The signs say “Don’t eat in the library” therefore just don’t do it. Simple really. It’s not exactly the rocket science of statements.

My favourite instance during one of these ‘patrols’ was a chap I went up to and asked if would please not eat his sandwich in the library as there were rules forbidding it, the young chap in question promptly inhaled his sandwich in one mouthful with a smile of; Well now what are you going to do about it? Not a great deal it turned out, there’s not much you can do once it’s got to that point is there barring asking him to spit it out into the nearest bin.

It is these residual childlike instincts to state the opposite to what us quite evidently the case i.e. ‘I’m not going to eat it’ that both greatly amuse me and vexes me, in fairly equal measure. Why they feel the need for these charades I couldn’t say… why I felt the need when I was in school to state categorically that I was not chewing gum, despite it being blatant that I was. Is it some form of miniscule defence mechanism? Is it testing the boundaries?

Whilst I might complain about this in terms of honesty, and it is, in the grand scheme of things it’s entirely inconsequential. In reality I find the students to be incredibly honest, sometimes surprisingly so… which I feel is unfair that I feel their responses to be ‘surprising’ but if based on their eating habits and lying about that, it’s an assumption on my part.

They, almost without fail as far as we are aware hand in Lost property for example, lost student cards, wallets, money found on the floor, items of clothing peoples books etc. Or they report the fact that somebody’s stuff seems to be abandoned on one of the floors. What does concern e however is that they so willingly leave their things lying about, they either do not value what they do have, don’t care or are very trusting. The latter is admirable the other two worrying, but without surveying the student population this cannot be ascertained with any great certainty.

It is the honesty in these instances that reassures me about the people passing through our doors on a daily basis. Again, I feel I must point out the fact that I am only referencing this age group because they are the people I come across daily, not because I think that they are the lowest denominator for honesty, they are just as likely or not as everyone else to be honest.

So Mr Twain… I’m not entirely certain your claims stand up to closer scrutiny, at least not amongst the people I come across. I believe that honesty is NOT a lost art, it might be in a constant state of flux based around food items, but generally I think it is alive and kicking.




About Nerdsbian

I am a nerd for ALL seasons. Ravenclaw...natch. I am a genderqueer Librarian who unsurprisingly likes reading...a lot. But I also love being outside too...sometimes even reading at the same time. Also animals, any and all of them. Never yet met one that didn't get on with me and vice versa. I do a couple of different voluntary jobs (animal charity related), I am a Brownie Leader and have recently completed my MA.
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