“I hope that I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider to be the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”
~ Gen. George Washington
Honesty. Perhaps the most difficult of the 12 values. It is definitely the simplest. And maybe that’s what makes it hard. Isn’t the simplest task always the hardest? Is it because we over think it? Or maybe we try to make ourselves look more important, more intellectual. The simple fact of the matter is, everyone can be more honest. Not just honest to each other, but honest to yourself.
In the middle of the Revolutionary War, Benedict Arnold unexpectedly switched sides. After asking for, and receiving, an appointment to West Point from Gen. Washington himself, Arnold was free to pursue his secret plans. He slipped away early in the morning September 25th 1780 to surrender West Point to the British. His British informant, John André, was sent as a spy with Arnold's hand written notes of West Point in his shoe. (John André was captured and tried, then hung on October 2, 1780 as a spy. André was 29 years old.) Arnold’s pride lead him to discontent with America. He was involved in the early years of the war, lending his talent to several key victories and battles. However, subordinates in his division got credit for his work, and others received promotions while Arnold was ignored. I am reminded of something Ronald Reagan said, “There is no limit to what you can accomplish if you don't care who gets the credit.” Arnold cared if he got the credit, and that planted the seeds of discontent that later caused Arnold’s dishonesty and betrayal of our beloved General, and country.
Gen. Washington was shocked to learn of Arnold’s betrayal. A man of good character, an honest man, would endure trials not for the benefit of themselves, but for the cause of freedom. (Two words; Valley Forge.) He sent his faithful aid, Alexander Hamilton to intercept Arnold. Arnold predicted this and escaped to a British ship. He was given a generous salary, a command post in the British army, and a lump sum of 6,315 pounds sterling silver by the British for his actions.
During Benedict Arnold’s campaign in Virginia, Gen. Washington’s Mt. Vernon Estate was in danger of being destroyed by a vengeful Arnold. The caretaker of the estate, kinsman Lund Washington, feeling the pressure to protect the estate, took goods from Mt. Vernon onto a British ship. Gen. Washington wrote to Lund in a letter;
“...but that which gives me most concern is, that you should go on board the enemy's vessels, and furnish them with refreshments. It would have been a less painful circumstance to me to have heard, that in consequence of your noncompliance with their request, they had burnt my house and laid the plantation in ruins.” – 30 April 1781 to Lund Washington (found on the familytales.org website)
George Washington left his beloved estate, his loving wife, and the life of a gentleman farmer several times for the service of America. His dedication to this country was so great that he would rather see his Mt. Vernon destroyed than in the hands of the enemy. And even when the battles were over, the war won, and a new country emerging, Gen. Washington’s dedication to the country remained strong. When asked to return to public life as the President, Washington replied, “Have I not yet done enough for my country?” Washington had a heavy discussion to make - remain in the comforts and warm embrace of his home, or sacrifice his desires once again for our country.
My question for you is, how far would you go for your country? Does your love of America compel you to give up your life, your fortune and your sacred honor?
Honesty. A value found throughout the pages of history. A value that needs to saturate itself throughout our society. It starts with you.