Some months ago an old acquaintance of mine called me to remind me that he owed me some money. The business was old, it wasn’t that much money, and I had completely forgotten. Had he forgotten, I would not have been aware of any injury.While Southern culture has weaknesses, dishonesty is not one of them. Like everything and everywhere you can find all the exceptions you seek, but they’ll be just that. But if you put Southerners collectively on the world’s honesty spectrum we will be considerably closer to the Finns than to the Pakistanis.
Try bribing a cop sometime, or greasing the skids at any front office, public or private.
The truth is that our managers, bureaucrats, and officials of all stripes, public or private, are, by and large, honest folks. Indeed our commerce is built upon a foundation of low-level administrators who simply will not steal from their employers or accept bribes.
The reason is, of course, cultural. Collectively a sizeable majority of Southerners are in the habit of not lying or stealing. This is, first and foremost, because when we were lil’ bitty, the people around us were not lying or stealing, and they were also telling us not to. And occasionally when we were caught with our hands in the cookie jar or telling a fib, they may have reinforced the message by striping our pudgy lil’ legs.
We can hardly help filling the mould that is our family or the people into which we are born. It’s just the nature of things. And honesty, in spite of the exceptions, I think is one the South’s greatest cultural strengths.
This piece was published at Look Away on May 4, 2023.
Mark Atkins has six wee bairns who are all seventh-generation Henry County, Tennessee, and all from the same doe. It is the people of Henry County that he most wants to reach but writes to Southerners generally. He is without credentials but rather dares to speak by the same authority as the little boy who cried 'The king has no clothes!' His core belief and starting point is that like everything, we humans have a nature, it is not so hard to understand, and to pretend that it is other than it is, is to jump off a cliff. Which is what we Americans have in fact done.