honor system

Acouple of weeks ago a friend texted me a photo from his local farmstand, where freshly picked cucumbers are priced according to length. Customers choose their produce, tally up what they owe, and leave their payments in a box. The farmer’s innocently suggestive drawing made me laugh.

But what really struck me about the photo was the nostalgic beauty of this age-old endeavor – a way of doing business which simply assumes the best in each of us. During a summer in which the Boy Scouts have apologized for the behavior of the President of the United States and PolitiFact rates just 20% of his statements as true and 69% as either outright lies or false, it’s hard not to feel sad and suspicious of our moral culture, no matter where you fall on the political spectrum. As a nation, we are watching the criminal investigations into this administration unfold with a mixture of horror and fascination. Often times, as yet another presidential lie is exposed and supplanted by an actual fact, I wonder how this man goes to sleep at night. And what of those individuals who repeat his falsehoods in exchange for a paycheck? How do you live with yourself if you know most of the words that come out of your mouth are untrue and the things you do each day are dishonest?

When my son Jack was very young, his favorite story was Pinocchio. Although we didn’t watch many movies in our household, we did own the Disney version of Pinocchio and Jack watched it with endless fascination, as if that movie held for him the key to life. In a way, I think it did. There was Pinocchio, pulled again and again toward adventure and excitement and trouble, and tempted again and again to lie his way out of every jam. And there was Jiminy Cricket, whispering in his ear, “Go ahead, make a fool of yourself, then maybe you’ll listen to your conscience.”

What child really wants to hear “the still, small voice” that, as Jiminy himself acknowledges, “most people won’t listen to”? Growing up, we learn integrity the hard way, by trial and error – cheating on a test, shoplifting a pack of gum, throwing trash out the car window, lifting a few dollars from a parent’s dresser, telling a lie. Whether we get caught or not isn’t the issue. What matters is how we respond to that sense of hollow regret and self-loathing that comes with doing wrong. We can numb it, ignore it, and pursue a self-interested, self-aggrandizing path. Or we can heed the voice of our own inner authority and begin to choose the high road — every time, even if it’s hard.

It is only by strengthening our moral muscles that we grow up, grow wise, and become trustworthy. Maturity and integrity go hand in hand. But we are human, and fallible, and the process is ongoing. As Indian guru and philanthropist Sri Sathya Sai Baba observed, “Who you are is made up of three persons. There is the one you think you are, the one others think you are, and the one you really are.  Work towards making all three the same. Then there will be peace and bliss.”

Fortunately, life offers us countless opportunities to practice spiritual alignment.

Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve countered some of the disillusion I feel in our government by keeping my eye out for old-style examples of the honor system. The truth is, we humans are healthier and happier when we do the right thing, even when no one is watching. It is lovely to be trusted. And it feels even better when we uphold that trust. A local farm stand or a roadside table offering flowers is an opportunity to participate in a two-way flow of faith in our own best selves.

There is more than enough cause for despair in our nation this summer. I cannot change the President’s ways. But I can commit to raising the bar even higher in my own daily life, and to finding small ways to both do good and to be good. I can choose to pay forward kindness and honesty, whether it’s by picking up beer cans alongside the road, donating a special book for some passerby to discover, or placing more money than I owe in an unattended box.

Here are a few more photos from my summer travels. Collecting them has been fun, and participating in these friendly exchanges always lifts my spirits.

This charming table was set up on the sidewalk in the midst of a busy urban neighborhood.  I loved that even the vases were for sale — for a buck!

What a good idea, to leave behind a sturdy walking stick for the next hiker to use.

At the farmer’s market, the fresh pasta purveyor trusted her customers to wait for her return, or to leave their money if they were in a hurry.

We walked past this neighbor’s table in Maine a few times last weekend.  Each day the produce was restocked, beautifully.

An honor jar is a point of pride, for both farmer and customer. And trust is a strong motivator, especially when the offerings are so generous.

Here’s the set up at my own local self-service farmstand.  There’s only one Farmer John, and he’s busy in the garden, so he trusts his customers to shop in his small store, record their purchases in a notebook, and leave their cash in the box.  There’s a big basket full of spare change, a fridge full of berries and cheeses, organic lotions and potions, and home-baked pies made with love.

Although many local cooks and farmers bring their wares to sell at Farmer John’s, the place runs without a single employee.  When the flag is at the door, the store is open for business.

I’d love to hear about how the honor system is working in your neck of the woods.  In the meantime, may we each do our small part to spread goodness, to support each other, to appreciate the simple pleasures, and to live with integrity and courage.










for my reflections & inspiration

your comments

  1. Thank you dear Katrina for your insightful musings. Bless you 🙏🏻💕

  2. Once again you hit the nail on the head!! I always look forward to seeing your blog in my inbox.

  3. Enjoy your columns, but keep hearing under tones of your political views. I don’t recall your opinion on Hillary when she was involved with the Benghazi cover up and her e mail scandals. When Bill was romping in the Oval Office with a 21 yr old intern, you never mentioned it. Politics aside, I enjoy your blog.

  4. Katherine Cox Stevenson says:

    Love this Katrina! Every single word and beautiful photo! I live on a tiny island in British Columbia and the smoke coming across the Salish Sea burns my throats and eyes. And I have not had to evacuate my home like many in the province. Fingers crossed every day I won’t have to.

    So many families homes burnt to the ground. All the poor domestic and wild animals are creatures to say nothing of magnificent trees.

    If that is not worrying enough now a threat of nuclear war.

    So to focus on the honour system is wonderful. There are farm stands on the island like you describe. Beautiful produce, flowers, and preserves set up. Change present if one needs it.

    We also sometimes engage in exchanges rather than money for work. For example, a neighbour built me an additional nest box for my chickens. They were arguing when two of them wanted the same box at the same time. When done I asked, “How much do I owe you?” His response, “A dozen eggs.”

    These kinds of lovely simple things help me not fall to despair over threats to our world.

  5. Gardengoddess42 says:

    Thank you Katrina. Always so reassuring to be reminded that peace and truth will prevail, despite the evidence to the contrary in so much of everyday life.
    And I am glad you keep your blog articles and discussions focussed on current situations. That is where we need to concentrate our thoughts and energy.

  6. Wendy Wyatt says:

    I grew up in a small farm town in Northeastern Colorado and in my childhood these scenarios were all around. Even businesses would allow you to pay the next time or keep an account. We also never locked our doors – on homes or cars. I don’t think we ever even had a key to our home. And quite often I’d be sent to fetch from a neighbor a cup of sugar or flour and help myself if they weren’t home and leave a little note.
    Once I left to attend college at Colorado College, I’d be halfway back walking to my dorm room, when I realized I’d left my keys in the car in the ignition (what everyone did in my hometown) And while Colorado Springs wasn’t the safest city back then (rape whistles were handed out at freshman orientation) they still employed the Honor System for classes. All students signees a contract agreeing to the terms and class work and tests could be taken back to your room or done anywhere on campus. I believe they still do this today. As for my hometown, things have changed and people now lock cars and homes… but it fostered in me a deep respect for integrity.

  7. What a gift to us to share these small (but significant) pieces of hope in our messy world. Thank you. There is a very popular brewpub restaurant in our area (with 4 or 5 locations I think) that doesn’t take credit cards. They have an ATM, but will also offer to give you a self-addressed/stamped envelope to take home and mail back with a check if you don’t have cash or check with you. They told us recently they have about a 95% return rate!

  8. Lauren Seabourne says:

    Another wonderful blog post! I appreciate your thoughts and agree with your concerns. You’re right, it’s up to all of us to find opportunities to practice honesty, kindness and compassion. Thank you for inspiring us with your words and reminding us that we all can do our part in small ways.

  9. Always a good read. Thank you!

  10. Just this afternoon we took our two sons to a local greenhouse and petting zoo. We’ve been here many times, and the entrance to the zoo is always staffed. Today, there was a sign and a cash box. Better still there was a reminder to shut the door so the goats wouldn’t get out.

  11. I use to look forward to your blogs as well. I found you inspiring etc. Now I just skim and as soon as I see a political jab I quit reading. A previous poster above, Arlene, makes an excellent point. So until you accept who is running the country right now, it is going to be a tough blog to read. Sometimes part of growing up is accepting that in which you cannot change.

    • Gardengoddess42 says:

      Might I suggest that we all accept that there will be dissension, politically and otherwise, in every aspect of our lives – it has always been thus, not just in regard to recent political events. It is probably not going to stop, we all have our opinions and they have always been expressed. When we don’t agree with other people’s fears and concerns should we just dismisss them and cut them off because they are not currently our fears and concerns? In a few years the situation may change and those of us who are now chiding the concerned among us may have the need and opportunity to express our own views on a situation we find difficult or worrisome.

  12. Keep sharing and I love that your bringing politics in. This is a time of awakening and we must be brace and see it fully so we can create the new world. Honor system /respect / integrity / instead of what is in it for me– what is in it for WE

  13. Polly Glover says:

    Thank you for being honest, sharing your thoughts and putting yourself out there. These are very difficult times, indeed. It is wonderful to read about the “good” in people setting their own examples in contrast to the blatant disregard for humanity. You are an inspiration to me.

  14. You have wonderful insights and a beautiful writing style…. but you ruin it with your political rants. Makes me stop reading.

  15. Trust and honesty – two good subjects for any day. Your column is a reminder that even with 3 farms in our town, 2 of which have stores with employees, there is one tiny farm that is on the honor system as you describe – wish a table next to the street. Love your photographs. As a micro niche book publisher for more than 27+ years, mostly never seeing my customers as most are email/online/phone or direct sales, I’ve always trusted that each would pay me. I’ve only had two customers who didn’t—one 20 years ago and 1 last year.

  16. Simply observing our daily world and looking for the good is an excellent way to counteract the overwhelming negative (and scary) things happening as a result of our inept President. I’m glad that you, like so many others, won’t simply “accept who is running the country right now”. By accepting we condone the behavior, and this behavior must stop if our country is to survive.
    We are fortunate to have a farm right next door to us with delicious and rare tomatoes sold using the honor system. Another farm down the street sells organic duck and chicken eggs using the honor system. Like you, I’m thrilled to support them and always throw in a few extra dollars!
    Thank you for this beautiful post!

  17. Good morning Katrina,

    I also feel a surge of joy when I see your post in my inbox. I am inspired by how you reflect so deeply on the state of our world, country, town neighborhood, and search for ways that you can deposit generosity, kindness, integrity and love. Thank you! I am energized and motivated to find ways to strengthen my moral muscle. Each day this month, I’ve been resurrecting a past tradition of practicing random acts of kindness. It fills me up completely–I am convinced I receive more from it than my intended recipient. Thank you for posting. I’ll read you each and every time.

  18. you restore my faith in all that is good. and right in here, that’s a mighty steep challenge. thank you. i too will now begin to scan the landscape for those moments of pure goodness.

  19. marlene alves says:

    Katrina, there is nothing I enjoy more than to see you have posted; thank you for your always insightful & beautiful words & thoughts. For those who find it unappealing (for whatever reason), they may need to look elsewhere. Keep them coming, lovely lady!

  20. Cheryl Anderson says:

    How refreshing to see pictures of honesty in action. I look forward to your blog because you are real and speak out about the lies in this administration. Thank you!! The truth will come out, justice will prevail.

  21. Love the pictures and of course, the thoughts. Needed this little pick my up and reminder today – there is more good than bad in our world, and most people are honest. Thanks!

  22. Terry Mond says:

    Thank you, Katrina. You buoy my soul – and I am grateful.

  23. I agree with every thoughtful and beautiful word you’ve written here. I hear people talking about politics but I hear you talking about honesty and example. Nothing that’s important in our world will work if people are dishonest. The idea that our ethics are important to me is indisputable. It’s not about politics, it’s about trust. We should all strive to be good and truthful, and do good, no matter politician or citizen.

  24. Keep your thoughts coming Katrina! Silencing the electorate is no democracy. We will not be silenced in this political climate. With a lunatic at the helm, we all need to make our voices heard and this little ol’ grannie from Maine sure isn’t going to bow down to a crazy man.

  25. Doreen Felde says:

    I used to look so forward to your writings. I have purchased all of your books and have given many away as gifts over the years. I am sad to say that I’m no longer as happy to see your name in my inbox. We all know you are unhappy with our President and that is okay. We have all been unhappy a time or two with our elected officials. But we move on with optimism. Our country will survive. You really do need to move forward. Your unkind words are not helpful and only divide our country. I am not a Trump fan and I really, really wasn’t a Hillary fan. But I try to say only positive things – no matter who is in office. I would never publicly voice scathing words about OUR President. I wish you would do the same.

  26. Mary Erlain says:

    Thank you, Katrina. This made my day!!

  27. I am so very grateful for your words, for their honesty and their truth. I find nothing “scathing” or necessary of criticism within them and I so regret that others cannot bring their own positive words to this public comment forum. Thank you Katrina for taking the time and effort to continue to write inspite of the negativity of some. Your words bring joy to so many…including me!

  28. I am a Professional with the Boy Scouts, and have been an avid follower of your ‘ordinary life’ and writing since you first allowed us to share in it. I cannot tell you how closely this resonates with me today, and I’m sharing it with all of my 1000’s of fellow professionals as we prepare to gather in Dallas in a few weeks for our annual meeting. Often, these meetings are mired in ‘what’s wrong with the world’ and this year will certainly hold it’s discussions over coffee about our ‘guest speaker’ at the Jamboree, who didn’t see how his words brought exactly the wrong message to these young people who were there to share is the joy of diversity and not the negative message they received. Thank you, Katrina. As is echoed in the messages, above, from the other readers… you have once again put to words exactly what we need to focus on, to celebrate, and to share. I am a leader in our professional forum, aptly named ‘Rise’ – and this is on my next post to that group in our online forum. I hope you will see the influx of others who need to receive your insight as we all ‘rise’ to the challenge of living our ordinary, honest lives.

  29. Gretchen Waas says:

    Those little free libraries – great examples of trusting, community spirit! My granddaughter and I pass by one weekly on our walk to and from the playground. She is fascinated by it and we always stop to read a book or two. Thank you for your wonderful blog. I enjoy your perceptive musings!

  30. Tina Derke says:

    How refreshing to see such honesty and trust. Restores my faith in human beings.
    Thank you.

  31. I, too, am always grateful for your words Katrina, the beauty of your writing, your honesty, your courage to stand up for your beliefs, your sensitivity in seeing the beauty in the little things in life, along with the willingness to open your heart to your fears, and your unwillingness to let negativity deter you. Being honest is much more than trusting people to pay for goods taken. It is about expressing what’s in our hearts, and on our minds. It’s about sharing our fears along with our joys. This blog should be a place for all of us to do that. Even if we don’t always agree with one another it seems quite simple to offer positive and thoughtful discourse rather than negative hurtful comments. Katrina gives us her heart every time she writes. I believe it’s our job, as her readers, to offer ours in return if we chose to be here. It takes great courage to write from one’s heart with the honesty and tenderness that Katrina does. We owe her that in return. Thank you Katrina. Don’t stop!

  32. I am very happy to hear your political views, Katrina. Please keep it up! As a Canadian, I am very grateful to live in our beautiful country, and you would find few people here who do not support your views. I follow your blog faithfully and please know you have tons of support out there for both your lovely posts and your political views, north of the border and I’m sure south of it as well. Thank you!

  33. PS Katrina, I meant to say that our little free library is doing very well in our very small town. It’s beside our community mail box, and while our boxes have been broken into, the library has never been vandalized. Recently, when a hinge broke and the door wouldn’t close, somebody fixed it within a day. There is indeed still much that’s good in the world. We will overcome!

  34. Such wonderful examples of kindness, they are a sweet reminder of the country I remember in my growing up years, the 1950’s. These small summer spots that we find, sometimes quite randomly, create memories for the children who are fortunate enough to visit them, and comfort for us older souls who are looking for those small moments of joy that reinforce our values and make us feel good.

  35. The place we picked blueberries a few weeks ago is still honor system as is the tiny farm stand nestled between the doors of the greenhouse and ice cream place.

  36. Barb from CNY says:

    I cannot thank you enough for this beautifully timed but of grace in a world that so badly needs it. Thank you again for reminding me that regardless of the chaos that is around us and leading our country, there are things I can do that can make it better. Thank you for being the quiet voice of grace and reason when the world around us is screaming the opposite. Just…thank you.

    And please remember for every comment or person not happy with your position or with the fact that you state your opinion on your own blog, there are so many of us who break out in a smile when we see your name in our inbox and are grateful there is someone who understands how we feel and is not afraid to voice it. There is such comfort in knowing I am not the only one who feels this way.

  37. Dear Katrina ~ this was just what I need to hear this week.
    Thank you ❤️

  38. “Dark and difficult times lie ahead. Soon, we must all face the choice between what is right and what is easy.” Albus Dumbledore

  39. Where I work there is a spiral bound log book to record materials taken by installers, contractors, etc. They simply write in the item, quantity & job name and are trusted to take those items from the warehouse unsupervised. Many of these items are very expensive. I find this refreshing in today’s world where trust is often questionable. And yet, just by being trusting, I believe we empower and encourage people to be more responsible and honest. It works both ways, doesn’t it?

  40. Well, I thought I’d take a quick peek to see if you had stopped writing about politics….and quickly discovered – you haven’t. I used to enjoy your articles and would always look forward to them. In this divisive world, it was nice to go someplace that seemed to want to draw people together. But your current condescension is something I can’t tolerate. I’m sorry to see you have decided to continue down this path.

    • I think what’s sorry is the state in which this country is being lead by one person. It’s beyond having different political party preferences. It’s about human decency and morals! Kartrina has always spoken of those very topics. It’s sorry you can’t see that.

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