Brokerage Days: Honesty Wasn’t Always the Best Policy

I’m a bluntly honest person. This has often been a hindrance in life. When people ask me what I think about something, I tell them. (I have stopped doing this in many instances. Now I just shrug and say, “that’s a very complex issue.”) But I’m also honest in my business dealings and on my taxes and in my life. I tell social lies, “you don’t look fat,” “what a beautiful child,” “I love your home. What you can do with aluminum foil is amazing.” But I don’t lie other than that.

A trial lawyer I once knew years and years ago told me once that he always advised witnesses to tell the truth. Why? “It’s easier to remember.” And it is.

My deal with my clients was this: “I will tell you everything I know about what you are buying. That doesn’t mean there isn’t stuff hiding under a rock I don’t know about but I promise to tell you everything I know.” My clients seemed to appreciate this and I steered them clear of all the bad investments the firm offered, which were many and paid the highest commissions.

Before you send me a sprig of a cherry tree to symbolize George Washington’s honesty, I confess I did this for two reasons: first, I’m a terrible liar. I cannot say for certain if I would live my life with such a high level of honesty if I could lie in a convincing way. Second, I have never thought that common, everyday honesty should be thought of as a virtue. It should be a given.

Finally, not to disappoint, but Washington never chopped down a cherry tree as a youth and when queried about it said, “I cannot tell a lie.” This was made up Parson Weems, author of The Life of Washington, published in 1800. Like any author trying to flog his book, Parson Weems traveled round and talked about his works by preaching about the moral lessons contained in his books and then selling the books from the back of his wagon. Is this a great country or what?

He foolishly went along with the advice of his stockbroker and put all of his money into the Greek bonds. 30 Oct 1929, New York, New York, USA – Bankrupt investor Walter Thornton tries to sell his luxury roadster for $100 cash on the streets of New York City following the 1929 stock market crash.

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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