My first trading position was as a domestic gasoline trader. I traded in New York Harbor (NYH), a large hub of gasoline supply for the northeast US. This region did not have enough refining capacity to supply the populous industrial demand, so my job was to purchase gasoline from imported cargoes, Gulf Coast pipelines, or local tank storage. All the suppliers knew that my large company was short gasoline and would eagerly await my entrance into the market as a buyer. When the market got tight, the sellers would ramp up their prices. When the market was full, my phone would ring with suppliers quickly offering discounts. Supply and demand worked efficiently in this major gasoline market.
I worked with both trading companies and energy brokers, third parties who connected buyers and sellers for a fee. My phone constantly rang, primarily from brokers who wanted to chat about the market and get information from me. They mainly wanted to know my trading position and then would pass along this information to others in the market. This allowed brokers to piece together deals (price, time, volume, etc.) between buyers and sellers. Depending on the volume, the brokerage fees might be several thousands of dollars. A top energy broker might rake in millions in yearly commissions.
Energy brokers took no risk in the transactions. When a deal was contested, the broker would attempt to pacify both parties and stay neutral. Speaking factual truth may alienate a customer thus jeopardizing future fees. Once I traveled to New York for a meeting with customers and decided to meet directly with the seller who disputed contract terms in a deal. Before the meeting, I had spoken by phone with the energy broker who agreed with my facts and would also attend the meeting.
After the usual meeting pleasantries, we started to discuss the deal with all parties in the same room. After I stated my view of the facts, I turned to the energy broker and asked him to verify what I had just stated. The energy broker then said that I was incorrect and agreed with the facts of my counterparty. I blew up and stated that just an hour ago, I had spoken to the energy broker who said he agreed with me. I turned to the energy broker and called him a liar. The energy broker sat in silence with his head lowered. My counterparty changed the subject, and the meeting broke up.
I later spoke one-to-one with my counterparty about my conversation with the energy broker. My counterparty said: “By your reaction, I knew that the energy broker lied to you. I guess he had to eventually take sides and I do more business with him.” My assumption was that people would be honest, even if it caused them to lose business. I learned an early lesson about honesty and money. I settled with my counterparty and never spoke to the energy broker again.
Sadly, this wasn’t the only time that I dealt with dishonesty while working. My next trading position was as an international products trader. I sold a products cargo to the Thailand government in a public tender. Although not required, I decided to use my company’s Singapore office as a broker and paid them a small fee. When delivered, Thailand would not accept the cargo stating that at delivery, it was off specification. My contract terms were based on the loading specifications, not the delivered. The loading specifications were within the contractual limits. Our Singapore office told me there was nothing I could do except pay the damages, which I reluctantly paid. Twenty years later, I learned that our Singapore office lied to me. They submitted the tender agreeing to delivered specifications and took the risk, knowing that my contract with them had loading specifications. After two decades, I was told the truth when one of the Singapore traders retired. The Singapore traders did not want to take the financial losses on their trading books, so they lied to me. I assumed that it was the Thailand government that was dishonest and used their governmental powers against a corporation. Sadly, it was my colleagues who lied to me.
Dishonesty happens both externally and internally. It happens between families and close friends. It happens inside seminaries, churches, and religious institutions. It happens in governments, regulation agencies, and non-profits organizations. It has happened since the earliest of civilization and sadly, it will happen in the future. Toddlers and centenarians are dishonest, along with all ages between. Sadly, it is part of our sinful human nature.
God understood the sinful reality of humans so issued commandments to Moses. One of these commandments concerns honesty: “Neither shall you bear false witness against your neighbor.” (Deuteronomy 5:20) Why is this commandment so important? Dishonesty destroys trust. Once the trust bond has been broken, it cannot easily be repaired – perhaps never. One can be forgiven, but rebuilding trust takes time and may require small incremental steps. In my case, I had the option to choose energy brokers, so I chose not to do business with the person who lied to me. In the second case, I continued to work with the Singapore traders because I did not know the truth. Had I known, there would have been consequences, including possibly dismissals. Dishonesty has consequences.
There are many psychological reasons why people lie. This subject fills many bookcases. It boils down to protecting oneself at the expense of a neighbor. Dishonesty is raising yourself above your neighbor. It is selfish and greedy. It is passing undeserved pain onto another. It destroys community. For these reasons (and many more), God commands humans to be honest. This commandment is good for us and our community. This Advent Season, show love-in-action by practicing honesty.