Fay Vincent, erstwhile Major League Baseball Commissioner, had an op-ed in last Wednesday’s Wall Street Journal centered on the moral and legal aspects of why we swear to be truthful on those occasions when we are called on explicitly to tell the truth.
The oath warns that the testimony is a serious matter and that failing to be truthful has consequences.
The invocation of God reflects the traditional view that lying has consequences beyond legal bounds. The old-fashioned belief is that lying is wrong morally.
So far, so good. He added,
My generation believed and accepted a person’s word was a bond.
Indeed. And it still should be; although far too often today it is not.
Then he told this story:
I once accepted an oral offer to buy my Connecticut home and minutes later received a higher bid. I turned down the higher offer, though I was legally free to accept it since nothing had been agreed to in writing. Years later my buyer told someone we both knew he was surprised I hadn’t taken the higher bid. But I never considered walking away from the deal.
Vincent is more generous than me, apparently. I would have been insulted by the surprise. Why would the buyer have expected something different from me?
My word is, indeed, my bond. Expressing surprise at having done a right thing only provides a pathway for continuing to be surprised by leaving doing a right thing not the normal state, leaving being trustworthy not the normal state.