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Ethics for Young Girls: Lesson 4: Honesty in Little Things

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 08, 2012

Ethics for Young Girls

Young Woman’s Journal, 1900-1901

Lesson 4: Honesty in Little Things

The word honesty means fairness in dealings with people. They who steal are punished by law, but there are many acts of dishonesty which are not looked upon as such by the ones who commit them. Any act which is not fair and frank is a dishonest act. Honesty and dishonesty can be measured only by the acts of men, yet oftentimes we are misled by the acts because we do not know the motives which actuate them. Let us take several illustrations of actions of people and see if they are honest acts, that is, acts prompted through a sense of fairness.

Mrs. Lane is a poor woman, yet she tries to keep the commandments of God. She paid her tithing during the summer months, but when winter came she said she could not afford to pay her tithing any more, and consequently ceased paying it. Did she act fairly? She owed a tenth of her income to the Lord, just as she owed the money for the rent of her house, but God to her is not tangible, and will not pester her for his dues, so she flagrantly cheats Him.

Mrs. Fielding was looking at some cloth marked fifty cents a yard. She told the clerk she would not pay any more than forty cents a yard for it. After some bickering [sic] the goods was sold to her at forty cents a yard. Was she honest? The merchant had marked the goods at the lowest figure he could, but as she was a rich lady and he did not wish to lose her patronage, he sold the goods at a lower figure than he could afford to sell to all. If the goods was too high-priced for her, she didn’t need to buy it. She might have bought a cheaper grade of goods, but she was not acting fairly to beat a person down in his price.

Miss Quick was riding on a crowded street car. The conductor didn’t notice that she hadn’t paid her fare, and passed through the car without collecting from her. She quietly slipped her nickel in her pocketbook. When she got off the car she boasted to her friend that she had got the best of the street car company. Yes, she actually boasted of stealing a ride. How elastic some people’s consciences are!

Miss Baker borrowed a book, which she forgot (?) to return. After two or three years had passed, she wrote her name in the book, and now looks upon it as her own.

Miss Baird borrowed a white dress from a friend to wear to a concert. During the evening the dress was badly torn. She wrapped it up and returned it without a word of apology. We might go on indefinitely and give instances of “unreturned” borrowed property, such as rings, pins, handkerchiefs, pans, kettles, and small quantities of groceries.

Mrs. Cane was in the habit of borrowing tea from Mrs. Raymer, and of returning a less quantity of tea, so Mrs. Raymer bought a package of tea especially to lend to Mrs. Cane. She borrowed regularly and paid back regularly, but the package of tea gradually dwindled down until it was all gone. She paid back a little less than she received each time until she had used the whole package of tea.

It is not right to lend except in rare cases. By lending we encourage borrowing, from which grows dishonesty.

The preceding instances are on dishonesty. We must give one illustrating honesty. Miss Kiplin is a young girl studying arithmetic in the Brigham Young Academy. After an examination it was found that her paper was the only one marked one hundred per cent. After the class she came to the teacher and pointed out in the examination paper a small mistake, which the teacher had overlooked. The young girl felt that she couldn’t receive anything she had not earned honestly.

A young man boasted once that it took a bright person to cheat during examinations in eastern schools. He had done it and was proud of it. He was somewhat surprised when his companion said with honest disgust, “I wonder if all thieves are proud of their accomplishments.”

Whether dishonest acts are punished by law or not, the acts themselves all have the same effect upon the mind. The man is adjudged guilty by his conscience.


1. Repeat the commandment bearing upon honesty.
2. Relate ten instances of honest acts.
3. Why does the law take charge of people who are found guilty of theft?
4. Is it honest for storekeepers to give a better grade of goods for the same price to a rich person than to a poor one, or vice versa?
5. Look up the meaning of “honor” and “honesty” in the dictionaries.
6. How can we judge a man’s honesty?’
7. Who is the most nearly honest person you know?
8. Why?
9. What should be done with articles found on the street?



  1. Boy am I glad I haven’t heard rhetoric like this in church. I’m all for encouraging honesty, but saying we shouldn’t ever lend to people is downright miserly. I also get uncomfortable when someone comes down so explicitly on the poor for a judgment call between making rent and paying tithing.

    Comment by Capozaino — June 8, 2012 @ 8:53 am

  2. Can’t disagree with you, Capozaino.

    Doesn’t this whole series give you a little better appreciation for the the idea of correlation? Much as we like to moan about its perceived shortcomings and say it cheats us out of [fill in your favorite outstanding lesson manual from the past], it also spares us from the obvious problems of lesson series like this.

    Still, I like to try to imagine the discussions these lessons might have provoked, and wonder how deeply anyone might have embraced them, and what effects they might have had. They *are* part of our past.

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 8, 2012 @ 9:07 am

  3. I do appreciate that an uncorrelated lesson like this gives some more explicit and concrete applications of principles, even if I ultimately disagree with how some of that application comes out. If you felt free in class to say “I disagree and here’s why,” I imagine you could spark some good discussion.

    But a series like this definitely illustrates that, for whatever negative trade offs are involved in correlating the manuals, there are positives as well.

    Comment by Capozaino — June 8, 2012 @ 5:35 pm

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