Honestly? Coca-Cola’s Honesty Test Was in the Tea Leaves

Recently, all over America, people queued up at self-service kiosks for a taste of Coca-Cola’s Honest Tea. All fifty states joined in. You know, our America, land of the free and home of the brave. But the question is — are we also the home of the basically honest?

You see, all you had to do for a bottle of the tea was drop a dollar in a box. It was the age-old, on-your-honor system. Nobody stood there with a hand out saying put up or go thirsty. And there were no consequences if you chose to keep your dollar in your pocket and go your way. However, all of it was recorded.

You’ll be glad to learn that 92% of those who bought the product left their dollar in the box. (But that shiny number was slightly dulled when one guy had his bike stolen while getting his tea). As it turned out, the most dishonest state was the nation’s capitol, Washington, D.C. — the home of Honest Abe in the last years of his life.

But it got me thinking. How many of those same people whose integrity stayed intact for one dollar, were incorruptible when it came to higher stakes? I admit, I’ve always been too trusting. I truly want to think the best of people. But as the years have rolled by, I have been repeatedly disappointed in people when it comes to business. Of course, one can be dishonest in many things, but right now I’m talking about integrity and business practices.

To my knowledge there was one company whose owner/operator was always preaching to his employees and leaving Christian literature around for them to read. He claimed to truly believe the Word of God, but shoved its teachings aside like so much flotsam when it came to making money. He robbed the government, he cheated his customers, and cut corners in any dealings that left him with the upper hand and the highest possible income. And he seemed blind to this dichotomy. Unfortunately, he wasn’t the only one. A couple of years after that I met his spiritual twin in another state. He was a mover and a shaker in his church; even helped build one. But, in his world, God and business mixed like oil and water.

As a practicing Christian, the Bible is my life guide. And I’ve become more and more appalled at this duality of mind and spirit by those who claim the name of Christ. It reminds me of a story I once read of Charlemagne, (which in French means Charles the Great), who had to reprimand an undisciplined soldier whose name also happened to be Charles. Charlemagne cared not a whit for pageantry or display. He even dressed plainly. He cared about the inward integrity of a man, not the outward show, and his name was sacrosanct. He became so incensed that the soldier’s name was the same as his own that he shouted at him to either change his ways or change his name.

Names are important. We buy name brands at the supermarket because we hope we can trust their integrity. But is that true, anymore? Consumers are essentially being robbed, not subtly, but boldly, in the marketplace. I bought a cake mix at Wal-Mart recently for the first time in ages. I immediately noticed the box was different. Much smaller. And the price was much more than I had ever paid before. It would take two boxes to make up the same size cake I had baked for years. And the practice doesn’t stop with cake mixes. I read recently about some bean counter who made a name for himself in a company by suggesting they put one less of an item in each box, thereby saving his company a lot of money. But since the price didn’t change, the poor consumer was short-changed.

I wonder whatever happened to the practice of giving good measure, pressed down, and overflowing. For it’s by whatever measure you give, that it will be measured to you again (Luke 6:38). The fact is, too few read those words anymore. They are mostly deleted from society’s collective memory — to society’s eternal detriment and shame.

It’s a given that whoever chooses dishonesty over integrity is only cheating himself. There’s a piper to pay in the body, mind, and spirit. It often comes with a heavier toll than was ever bargained for. The student who cheats on exams will never learn. And in order to get ahead he must continue to cheat in ever-increasing volume. It’s a treadmill he can’t get off of until it collapses under his feet.

Let’s say, for example, a man’s life is a submarine. He builds his life’s vessel without taking into account the ever-increasing pressure of the depths. He may save a little money here and a little money there with cheap labor and cheaper materials, opting instead for the biggest and showiest submarine on the block — one with all the bells and whistles and the envy of all his peers. He may congratulate himself on his shrewdness and savvy and tell himself it’s all in a day’s work. But when he launches this vessel, it may hold together at a depth of 300 feet, maybe even 400 or 500 feet. But the deeper he goes, the more he begins to feel the crushing weight. Leaks spring up, a wall warps. Somewhere along the way, the fingers of that tightening fist will squeeze until it finds the weakest point. Then the pressure will overwhelm the vessel and crush it like an eggshell. Why? Because its integrity had been compromised.

That analogy was brought home to me by a reported story of two astronauts going to the moon. They were discussing the ship that was to carry them, not only to the moon, but back to earth again. One looked at the other and said, “You know what scares me the most? This ship was built by the lowest bidder.”

Now isn’t that a scary thought.

“Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23 (King James)

“Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it, and determines the course of your life.” (NIV and NLT)



3 thoughts on “Honestly? Coca-Cola’s Honesty Test Was in the Tea Leaves

  1. Great post. The majority of people (I hope) believe in moral integrity and practice it. But there are also people who are DISHONEST because they can get away with it or HONEST only for fear of being caught.

    I read two instances in the past week where people found money and turned it in. They were both people who could no doubt have made good use of the found money themselves. The first was a Black man and his wife living in a poor neighbordhood and shopping at Walmart with food stamps. He found an envelope containing $6,900 in a shopping cart. Without disclosing the exact amount, he told the Walmart manager about it and left his phone number. Sure enough, a woman came back to the store and was reunited with her money. She was planning to use it to buy a car for her son so he could get to a long-anticipated job.

    The second instance was a Latino man who found and enevelope containing $6,000 on the ground in the parking lot of his local DMV office. He’d had to borrow the money to register his vehicle so he definitely wasn’t rich, but thanks to paperwork also in the envelope, he was able to return the money to a woman who said it fell out of her car when she got out. She was going to use it to pay off a second mortgage on her house.

    I’m sure there are thousands of stories like this, but they aren’t the stories that make the news.

    I’m well aware of packages with the same price, but less content. Cereal is a perfect example. Suddenly a 16 ounce pacakge becomes a 14 ounce package. Juice that used to be in a quart container is reduced to 29 ounces. Candy bars become smaler, but the package size and price remain the same. I could give you similar examples for nearly half the groceries I buy.

    “ ‘You know what scares me the most? This ship was built by the lowest bidder.’ ”

    That would scare me, too. Lowest isn’t always the best choice.

    • Loved those stories about real sacrificial honesty. They ought to be on leading news programs along with the dirt and horrors we are subjected to daily. It ought to be a law. And besides the good new about honest people, it reminds us that “found” money isn’t always from a rich man’s pocket. Some of them mean a severe loss to people already struggling. Thanks for those.

      Yes. I’m aware of all these “modifications” in our grocery stores. And they have us over a barrel on much of it.


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