The Honor System: Can People Still Be Trusted?
Posted by Pamela S. on Monday, September 24th, 2012
Can I trust you? I’d like to think so. Many older people believe that the world used to be a safer place, with less crime. If you are from the digital generation, you are too young to have experienced the wonderful world of trust that I am about to s
hare with you. Should we trust people and how to do we protect ourselves without becoming misanthropic?
I used to entertain my kids when they were teenagers, with stories about life before the information age, which was pre-1970’s. I was born in 1953. When I was a kid, newspaper boxes were open, like the one in the photograph below. These boxes worked on the honor system. You were trusted to take a paper and put your money in the box. This is a small thing, but it shows what a different time it was.
I’m sure people stole newspapers, but they still do today, when the boxes are locked. Current newspaper boxes still work on a bit of an honor system. The newspaper companies trust that you will only take one paper from the box. These boxes, found on many street corners, are being phased out. The newspaper companies may trust you to take one paper, but if you notice, they don’t trust you with the box, since they are usually chained down.
I live in a small town and I have keys to many of my neighbor’s homes. Some of us don’t lock our doors, except at night. Driving through the nearby rural area, farmers set up roadside fruit and vegetable stands, with a box to leave the money. Why can’t that same system work in the city? Are urban people less trustworthy? I lived in the downtown core of a major city for many years, and I believe that we have the same values.
Honest Tea, a brand of iced tea drinks, conducted a social experiment back in August. To promote their new iced tea, they set up “honesty stores” on the streets of 30 American cities. These booths were on the honor system. A sign encouraged people to purchase a bottle of iced tea for a dollar and leave the money in the container. The results were encouraging, and interesting. 92 percent of people payed for their iced tea.
Check out their site for the results of “The National Honesty Index”. It will surprise you. For example, 100 percent of people in Oakland, California were honest, but only 86 percent of people in Miami paid for their drink. People with grey hair were 95
percent honest and comic book fans were 86 percent honest.
In Correctionville, Iowa, Gary Bollmeyer of Gare’s Bait and Tackle straddles the world of trust, and the new world – surveillance for security. Gary runs his bait shop primarly on the honor system. When he isn’t there, he leaves a sign, a notebook for customers to write down what they have taken, and a locked cash box for the payments. Gary also has a surveillance camera overseeing the action, and a sign, “Smile, You’re on Camera”.
Theorists studying social capital, (The connection between social relations and collective benefits, or the relationship between social networks, trust and productive benefit) have varying opinions. I read one argument that television has destroyed social capital, because we are all sitting at home watching television instead of forming communities, which builds trust. Another study found that social networks of the online variety build social capital by building virtual communities. I believe this to be true, and I’ve written about this in the past. Most of us want to live decent, honest lives, and help our brothers and sisters on this planet.
Build networks through social media, but don’t forget that everyone isn’t a kind soul. Get to know your neighbors, build a community, and you will be surrounded by people you can trust. That doesn’t mean you let down your guard. Let’s face it, if everyone was honest, we would be out of a job. There is a reason we need law enforcement and private investigators. Follow Gary Bollmeyer’s example. Give people the benefit of the doubt but be prepared for that small percentage who will take advantage.
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