An Honest Man

I knew an honest man once.


He was my Uncle.


He was born in the thirties in the UK and his family was very poor because his Father died from the effects of mustard gas, after he came home from the First World War and Flanders' Fields.


There was next to nothing to aid the family prior to or after the death of his Father. The one concession from the Board of Guardians was the pint of milk which his Father had a right to, due to his damaged lungs.


On the morning of his death - my Uncle was but a babe in arms with his twin - someone from the Board came to retrieve that pint of milk. The widow, with four children, three of them under the age of four, was not considered worthy to receive this.


Growing up as the Labour League of Youth flourished, my Uncle learned much and became a part of it. He was extraordinarily well-read, well-educated and worked, having served in the British Army in the fifties, ultimately in the British Ropes Factory using his engineering skills.


He knew all that there was to know about the origins of the Labour Party, continued to read much, was politically highly aware and was a Shop Steward Union representative. He was well skilled and well known and well liked by management and workers alike. He had no personal ego to feed, however, as he never desired advancement based on his intellectual capabilities. He was genuine, quiet, observant and he looked after his wife and his child.


He lived in a council house and never wished to purchase it. He was a true socialist. When the opportunity came to purchase the house he had lived in since the sixties, he decided not to take that opportunity, because he did not believe that this was for the good of the whole of society. He stood by his principles.


Years later, when redundancies were being announced in the British Ropes Industry, my Uncle was not even on the list, having a well established role and longevity. Being an observant man, he was well aware of everyone who worked around him; their families, their needs, their likes and dislikes and he served them well as their union representative. Always quietly, without fuss and I never, ever heard him once claim victory or boast reputation. He would always know the surrounding issues and complexities and speak knowledgeably about them all.


There was a younger man in the factory who, given his lack of longevity, was on the list of redundancies. He was a very worried man. He had a family and a mortgage and he was very, very concerned about the effects that being made redundant would have upon him. It was the eighties.


My Uncle decided to put himself forward for redundancy so that his man would not have to go. It would mean a much reduced income for my Uncle. He, too, would need to find another job. He made the choice, not on the basis of personal gain, but on the basis of putting himself in the position of his co-worker and deciding that his co-worker would suffer more deprivation than he, himself would. He did not tell his wife about this decision at all; he just took redundancy and implied it was a given to her.


In fact, none of us knew. Uncle took all kinds of bit jobs and worked his way through to pensionable age. Some years later on, he was walking in town with his son. A man came through the crowd towards my Uncle. He embraced him and said how happy he was to see him and how much he still thought about him and how he had been so grateful for him having taken redundancy, on his behalf. His son stood aghast, wondering what this was all about.


My Uncle told his son the story and insisted that he did not tell his Mother, ever. Of course, eventually, we all got to learn of the truth. Uncle died when he was in his late seventies; he took his quietness and his humbleness and his selflessness to the grave; unsung, unrecognised, unheralded.


But I knew what a good man he was and, not only that, that his intellect and his capability of arguing any political stance with anybody in the Houses of Parliament would actually never be known in the public sphere.


He is the only true socialist that I have ever known and I am so proud to have known such an honest and selfless person - living an ordinary life and being content within it, with his super developed intellect and wisdom - as my Uncle.


Ari Silverstein Added Oct 27, 2017 - 8:25am
You Uncle sounds like a truly selfless man.  Being selfless is a trait that’s in short supply, so it’s always nice to read about someone whose life exemplified selflessness.  Too often people claim to be selfless, but on closer examination are anything but.
That being said, nothing in your article displayed your Uncle’s honesty.  Giving a good paying job to a co-worker you think needs it more, has nothing to do with honesty.  Nor does passing on the opportunity to buy a house. 
I also don’t know what the difference is between a socialist and a true socialist. I think true socialists are those that force socialism unto others in the name of fairness and an ordinary socialist are those that choose not to force socialism onto the rest of society.  Or maybe it’s the other way around. 
Thomas Sutrina Added Oct 27, 2017 - 9:40am
Being honest he achieve the highest level in the union possible for an honest man or women.
Dave Volek Added Oct 27, 2017 - 12:54pm
Nice story.
I found the "council house" was quite thought provoking. I know Britain used to have a lot of public housing, which got privatized. Maybe there might be some benefits to society to keep this version of socialism going to some degree. Things to think about.
Leroy Added Oct 27, 2017 - 3:30pm
Thanks for the interesting story about your uncle.
I once knew an honest man.  His name was Arthur.  In my mind, I picture him as being 70 years old, but that is through the eyes of a  teenager.  Perhaps he was younger.  He was well-known throughout the county as an honest man.  He wore it on his sleeve.  If he told you something, you could take it to the bank.  He was a religious man who often quoted scripture.  He was a very hard man and generally a pain in the rear.  He was also an illiterate black man.  When he bought supplies on credit, he literally signed with an "X".  But, he was good with numbers.  As he said, he "kept the books" in his head. 
He came in one day to pay $10 on his bill.  I wrote out a receipt and gave it to him.  He asked for his change.  He claimed he gave me a $20 dollar bill.  He claimed he never made mistakes and he accounted for all the money he had spent that day proving to himself that he was correct.  I had an impeccable memory when I was a teenager.  I knew he had only given me $10.  We argued.  My father approached.  He told him we would count the money in the register and if it was over, we would give him the $10.  He trusted my father.   So, my father proceeded to count the money.  In the end, he told me to give him $10.  I protested.  My father was firm.  I gave him back $10.
After Arthur left, I protested to my father.  My father told me I was right.  But, this man was an honest man.  Perhaps he made an error, but he was still an honest man.  My father had no doubt that Arthur thought he had given me $20.  If he didn't give him $10 back, it would hurt my father's reputation and would hurt his business--so powerful was this man's reputation for honesty.  Sometimes you have to look at the bigger picture.
About ten days later, Arthur returned.  His accounting didn't add up in his head.  He had a surplus of $10.  He admitted that he must have made a mistake and apologized.  He returned the $10.  An honest man.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 3:12am
Ari, honesty is part of a whole human character. To be honest with kneself is to know oneself and be honest about your principles, but more, to follow them through, honestly. What is your interpretation of honest or honesty?
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 3:21am
Michael, yes, thankyou. I know that I was and am much more self seeking than my Uncle ever was. It was on reflection of his life, later on, that I realised that his self containedness and his quiet life were in fact emblematic of a great person, not whilst I was living in his time frame.  Having had many jobs and worked in multiple countries I have come across so many kinds of people of course and have always taken a keen interest in politics.
Whenever I might strike up a conversation with him on any point, he would know the background and might give his wry, sharp and slightly sarcastic view of the underlying truths. A snort and a chuckle and a knowing shake of his head was his characteristic.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 3:25am
Thomas, yes that is a very good point, actually. He was capable of far more of course but he wasn’t self seeking at all. I think that his co workers always overwhelmingly voted him as their representative because he was just so quietly knowledgeable and industrious and claimed no special privileges.  
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 3:29am
Dave, as Margaret Thatcher offered everyone their own front door knocker it was a mad grab! Suddenly, everyone could become conservative and middle class! But social housing has been in short supply ever since and every successive government has not built social or social to private housing even though respected foundations have told all of them that homelessness would increase.  Back to the point, my Uncle simply couldn’t espouse the notion of private ownership.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 3:33am
Leroy, that is a wonderful story! Two great men in your life and you learned a great deal from them, including giving up your right to claim that you were right. Yours is a story about pride and respect and doing the right thing, even when it is wrong in absolutes. I love it!
opher goodwin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 6:31am
Eileen - that was beautiful well told story. If only all people were like your uncle - the world would be a wonderful place. It's a lesson for us all. You have done him proud.
opher goodwin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 6:34am
Leroy - another great tale of honesty. There are many people out there like that I am sure. They go about their life in quiet anonymity and always try to do the right thing.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 7:38am
Opher, yes thank you.
Yes, Michael, I have often thought of that film, it’s a wonderful life with James Stewart’s role. Quietly industrious and not self seeking, but self deprecating to the point of feeling suicidal here.
But, my Uncle never felt suicidal, apparently didn’t scrutinise himself too deepy, but maybe he did, it was hard to tell as he could be a closed book.
I realise more and more how wonderful he was and that must be because I am becoming older and living through these politically cheap times of sound bites. I wonder what my Uncle woukd make of it all now. He died in 2007, and yet it is particularly in this past year that his memory is often in my mind.   My Mother, his older sister, died five years later and his twin brother died about two years’ ago. Sadly, they had been estranged......They are all gone now. I think that my reflections are in considering the time in which they were born. The late twenties to early thirties and the sad position of the working people.  Actually, there is much in my memory now of the stories that my Mum told me about those times, to make me question the whole nostalgia issue.
Ok, that is another story emerging....!
opher goodwin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 12:14pm
Eileen - looking forward to it already.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 2:04pm
Opher, thank you so much for that, it really helps!  More anon thus.
Leroy Added Oct 28, 2017 - 4:58pm
I suppose we have all had our honesty tested at one time or another.  I remember the time I was living in a European country that shall remain unnamed.  I was in a department store standing in line to pay for my merchandise.  One of my pet peeves in this country was that if you weren't rubbing up against the person in front of you, someone would step into the gap.  It happened to me this day.  A man stepped in front of me and pushed his way in.  He succeeded despite my best efforts to block him.  As we drew nearer to the cashier, he pulled out his wallet.  As he pulled out a bill, another bill slipped out.  It didn't flutter to the floor.  In an instant, it cut through the air and glided under the lip of the counter.  It was so quick, that, if I had blinked my eye, I would have missed it.  Yet, I saw the "200" denomination printed on the bill.  At the time, it was worth about $32. 
In an instant, a hundred scenarios went through my mind.  The guy was a jerk.  He deserved whatever happened to him.  I thought about telling him.  I thought about how I might claim it.  Finally, I decided on a social experiment.  If, as we approached the cashier, he acknowledged I was there before him, I would tell him about it.  Otherwise, I would say nothing and leave it for whoever found it. 
As the cashier came available, I changed my mind and told him he had dropped it.  My fundamental nature tends towards honesty, I suppose.  He was grateful, then acknowledge that I was there before him and let me go in front of him.  What would you have done?
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 6:23pm
Leroy, I do think that you have raised another, distinct, issue. Yes, it is related, but I do not speak of that kind of homesty, or owning up to something. Still, I see what you are edging towards..what would I have done?
In a supermarket, once, I found. ten pound note on the floor in the queue for the cashier. I asked around if anyone had dropped some money and the people in the queue before me claimed it...and I realised out of self interest, not honesty. Silly me eh? For having verbalised it. Well, they were welcome to it.
That is not what this story was about, though. Do you see the difference? It is a life story, not an anecdote. But, perhaps you are making a point, but about what, precisely? 
Being honest to oneself is a world away from what you have described, especially as your judgement as to whether he should get it or not depended upon his behaviour.  Politics, eh? 
I do thank you all for all of your observations. I ponder on, really, this unfathomable being of the human species.
In my whole life, the only true socialist that I ever knew was my Uncle and he made that known only by his actions in his life and his quiet living. This is the greatness, the essence of my story or my witnessing of it which came to fruition only in my later years having pondered and reflected. Long after he died, that is.
What a great man that I knew and did not know it when I knew him.
Leroy Added Oct 28, 2017 - 7:26pm
I understand your admiration of your uncle, Eileen.  I have a friend who did something similar.  Business slowed around 2008.  The company had to reduce by one salesmen.  The cut based on seniority.  The guy who was going to be cut had younger children and really needed the job.  My friend fell on his sword and volunteered to go in his place.  Very noble, right?
Not to take away from his noble act, but his wife is the real breadwinner of the family.  He had ideas that he wanted to pursue and has since done so.  He no longer enjoyed his job.  He also knew he was in for a substantial inheritance when his mom passed, which happened a couple of years later.  I am sure his colleague was grateful.
It was really more of an excuse to leave the company and do other things.  Perhaps your uncle had ulterior motives that he never disclosed.
opher goodwin Added Oct 28, 2017 - 8:13pm
Announcement over the public address system - 'A wallet full of money has been found will the owner please form a queue outside the manager's office'.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 29, 2017 - 3:21am
Leroy, that was an intelligent and calculated act of someone who decided that the time was ripe for other things and his opportunities were wide. Good for him that he recognised his good fortune and let his job go.
The ulterior motive in my Uncle’s case? I doubt that. I did wonder why he never advanced himself though...this was when I was in my twenties and thirties.
I didn’t yet know the real story behind his redundancy. He took bit jobs which paid the rent and kept them afloat. Once he worked in security where he remained on premises all night. I recall seeing him at a bus stop in a security uniform, with a pile of books under his arm. It looked incongruous somehow, especially as the uniform was ill fitting and seemed to hang on him.  I knew that the books would be intellectual ones and not light reading and it made me smile, 
Ari Silverstein Added Oct 29, 2017 - 9:55pm
My interpretation of honesty is to be truthful and I can appreciate you believing your uncle was honest for following what he believed.  However, I would describe your Uncle as principled, principled to a fault.  Even the staunchest socialist wouldn’t give up his job or house so that someone else may have them.  It would be one thing if your Uncle lived in a strict socialist country.  If that were the case nobody would have property rights and no job would pay more than another.  But to sacrifice his and his family’s quality life so that he can claim to be a great socialist was the wrong way to be true to his beliefs.    
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 30, 2017 - 3:48am
Ari, that is an interesting take on the story. I do not think that I ever heard my Uncle mention being a socialist. These were ideas and ideals originally espoused by the Labour Party and they were elected immediately after the second world war.
The context of this story is that the grinding poverty and neglect of the masses up to the second world war included his own Father dying from the effects of the first world war. He never knew him. In the years of his childhood it was struggle for his Mother who was viewed as undeserving even as a widow. She had to apply to the Board of Guardians every week for money for the rent.
In his years of growing up, therefore, the Labour Party, which came from the Workers Educational Party and focused on educating all, was in its important growth and the people began to demand more from a country that had left the First World War veterans without care.
His principles were not about making a specific sacrifice, he was just living his own ideals.  I think that you may confuse the word “socialist” with a specific political driver but, in his context he was espousing and developing the attributes of being more than self elevating. But quietly, so he was not shouting to the workd about his sacrifice.
John, thesenterms indeed can well mean different things to different people and I am aware that in the US, communism and socialism seem to be words which cause great fear and paranoia!
opher goodwin Added Oct 30, 2017 - 7:39am
Ari - you can still have property rights, property and meritocracy in a socialist society.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 30, 2017 - 9:05am
Opher, herein lies the fear issue;  the political elite in the US manage to convince everyone that anything - remotely - like communism is a great evil, so the very words incite some kind of breakdown.
Yes, a more balanced society doesn't need to aspire to giving everyone the same amount of material wealth.  Distribution of wealth can easily be done in the context of public buildings, facilities and, hey, yes, health care! A more balanced distribution of wealth will still see rich people and poor people, but the poorer people will have access to social, as in society providing, social amenities.
A long view has to be taken by a government though;  economically speaking it is much better for a country to have a huge middle class who pay taxes, than having hugely rich at the top and dirt poor at the bottom.  Economically, balance makes sense and, er,  Mr. Ford was fully on board with this principle!
Terri Parke Added Oct 30, 2017 - 10:38pm
Thank you for your insight.  I appreciate your views on wealth...>I have an article about the opiate crisis you might find interesting in my profile..
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 31, 2017 - 5:51am
Terri, ok, I shall look at that.
Neelon, I think that you have missed the points completely. In fact, the brainwashing of the US peoples is so entrenched that you quote its motto.....harming the  rich..etc.  chapter and verse! But have you looked at economics on your own? Take a fresh look! 
“Harming” is a key word, deliberately negative! 
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 31, 2017 - 8:21am
Terri, just to come back to what you wrote, I haven’t expressed views on wealth!
Benjamin Goldstein Added Oct 31, 2017 - 11:40am
Hm....other honest socialists moved to communist regimes: Berthold Brecht, Angela Merkel's family when she was a child, Whoopie Goldberg (East Germany in 1979), Wolf Biermann.... All honest, principled socialists mocking those who couldn't leave.
I don't want to take away anything from your late uncle. He probably was a decent man, but I can't figure his council house stunt. It sounds like he was completely brainwashed.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 31, 2017 - 1:16pm
John G. The reason that the rich are the biggest drain is because that is the business model!
Benjamin, for goodness sakes....I described a man who was true to himself. He didn’t espouse a cause in itself and become it radically! He lived out a principle without telling any one else how to live!  That’s amazing, actually.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 31, 2017 - 1:18pm
Benjamin,  that your view of the “council house stunt”is thus, is telling, in itself about how you have been brainwashed!
Wow, amazing.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Oct 31, 2017 - 1:49pm
He didn’t espouse a cause in itself and become it radically!
If he wasn't out to tell anybody how to live, why did he cling to his council house? He either wanted to lead by example and therefore tell people how to live or he simply let an opportunity pass by. I think he wanted everybody to live in state provided houses. You can't have socialism without bossing everybody around how to live. The whole idea is that all have to pay for and live in council houses. It does not work if people opt out. You are either for choice or for socialism.
Benjamin Goldstein Added Oct 31, 2017 - 1:55pm
I realize what you mean, though. He did not realize that socialism only works with force and hoped to lead by example. He did not explicitely tell people what to do. And in an environment where he was the only adherent to the cause, he stuck to his ideal. This is what you mean with honesty. I applaud it. I would call it character. Of course, it is a bit delusional to think that one makes a difference on the premise that really everybody would do the same. I'm also guilty of it some times.
Eileen de Bruin Added Oct 31, 2017 - 3:00pm
Benjamin, yes, thank you. It was just who he was.
We all of us do not know what differences we have made or can make or will make, if we do it all very quietly.  
Phil Greenough Added Nov 1, 2017 - 10:18am
“He had no personal ego to feed, however, as he never desired advancement based on his intellectual capabilities.”
I find that to be sad.  If someone is intellectually gifted, they should seek advancement over the average person.  I mean, why waste all that intellect to be like everyone else.  This reminds me from a scene in the movie Good Will Hunting.  Read scene script below:
Will: [both leaning on a pick up truck while drinking beers and smoking cigarettes on a construction site] What do I wanna way outta here for? I'm gonna live here the rest of my fuckin' life. We'll be neighbors, have little kids, take 'em to Little League up at Foley Field. 
Chuckie: Look, you're my best friend, so don't take this the wrong way but, in 20 years if you're still livin' here, comin' over to my house, watchin' the Patriots games, workin' construction, I'll fuckin' kill ya. That's not a threat, that's a fact, I'll fuckin' kill ya. 
Will: What the fuck you talkin' about? 
Chuckie: You got somethin' none of us have... 
Will: Oh, come on! What? Why is it always this? I mean, I fuckin' owe it to myself to do this or that. What if I don't want to? 
Chuckie: No. No, no no no. Fuck you, you don't owe it to yourself man, you owe it to me. Cuz tomorrow I'm gonna wake up and I'll be 50, and I'll still be doin' this shit. And that's all right. That's fine. I mean, you're sittin' on a winnin' lottery ticket. And you're too much of a pussy to cash it in, and that's bullshit. 'Cause I'd do fuckin' anything to have what you got. So would any of these fuckin' guys. It'd be an insult to us if you're still here in 20 years. Hangin' around here is a fuckin' waste of your time. 
Eileen de Bruin Added Nov 1, 2017 - 10:30am
Phil, that is an interesting point based on a certain perspective.  I am going to ponder this one awhile. Plus, I am going to be busy for the next twenty four hours, so, time to ponder.
I know my answer. It is how to show perspective in a certain frame that cuts in to yours. That is the art, presumably, of intellect and writing and conveying something...that leads to another pathway.
wsucram15 Added Nov 1, 2017 - 12:33pm
Your Uncle was an honest man and his success should not be measured by others.  If he was happy then he was successful.
Just like the man in Leroy's story..didnt have much but his word, and he kept to that.  Its very important in life and exceptionally (sadly) rare.
I only knew one person like that and it was my Grandfather. But I actually had a few people in my life that impressed on me the value of honesty.  Those are lessons you never forget and are of great value.
wsucram15 Added Nov 1, 2017 - 12:34pm
btw..both you and Leroy..outstanding stories. 
Robin the red breasted songster Added Nov 2, 2017 - 3:16am
The biggest challenge, going forward, is the dishonesty of our politicians.
The fundamental problem going forward is not the creation of wealth.   There is plenty of that.   The problem will be in how each and every citizen qualifies for a share in it.    As things are going we are likely to be in a world where there are a small number of very high earning jobs, a much larger number of minimum wage jobs (where minimum wage legislation exists) and a huge number of unemployed.
Yet no-one is really addressing this problem.   Trump, bless his cotton socks, offers bullshit ideas to con the masses such as suggesting that jobs be "brought home" from China or that we wreck the environment to bring back coal mining.    But no-one addresses the real problem because to do so would upset the political order of things.
This is especially hard debate to have if anything "socialist"produces a rabid reaction....
Eileen de Bruin Added Nov 2, 2017 - 6:29am
wsu - thank you for that. Yes, I do believe that, inside himself, my Uncle was content in that he could live with himself.  Can we look in the mirror at ourselves? Can we live with ourselves?  Do we get on with ourself? 
Robin, there is plenty of wealth, yes. The problem that you imply should be addressed is the exact result of the model created.  It IS the objective of the current economic model both in the US and the UK - they are on the same boat. Low wage economies, lots of poor and dispossessed and a rich elite.  Trump's conning of the masses is all part of this as was the conning of the masses in the UK that all foreigners are to blame for the downfall of the NHS and lack of housing and social welfare ....the media is the arm of the government and this now includes the BBC - sold out a long time ago.
Eileen de Bruin Added Nov 2, 2017 - 6:40am
Will and Chuckie are the archetypal models projected certainly in the US.  There is a third model though (more later).  
There is an argument for Chuckie to tell Will to go do something great with what he has.  There is a good reason for Will to do this if he so desires, too - maybe he just needs someone to tell him to do it.
Will is either resigned to being where he is or doesn't know that he is capable of more, fine. Or, perhaps, he is content with his lot.
There are people who have made things better for their country, their people, of course.  Depending on the scale and the perspective, this might or might not reach the masses - as in the famous and the wealthy etc.
I do believe that my Uncle made things better for many, many people over the years but not on the scale of being propelled to lofty positions in the business or political world (increasingly one and the same of course - nay, not increasingly, always has been really).
So there is no hint at all here that, in my Uncle's choices he didn't attain a great deal at a deeply personal level (think of It's a wonderful life). He did. I am sure that there were many people who benefited from his way of managing and negotiation on their behalf;  bear in mind that entirely materialistic accomplishment is not necessarily the only driver in life to be followed.
Yes, I do think that he could and should have led in a role within the Labour Party. But, I also realise that those qualities which qualified him to do so, also denied him entry to that contemporary elite.  This story is well told in Tressel's "The ragged trousered philanthropists". The masses will go for the image, the face and the (false) promises.  They do not want to know the sage, factual truths.
Perhaps my Uncle realised this a long time ago and chose his path based on sage and wise depths.  I would hazard a guess that he would have thought all of these things through.
wsucram15 Added Nov 2, 2017 - 12:21pm
You were lucky to have known such a man Eileen.
Eileen de Bruin Added Nov 2, 2017 - 2:25pm
Thankyou wsu, you are right, but I am only lately realising it.  Looking back brings depths that I was not capable of at the time.  His worth is only now becoming known to me at a much deeper level, on reflection. Wow, that means that I didn’t know it all and still have much to learn!
Thanks, everyone for reading and contributing.