Monday, February 28, 2011

How to Be Honest

A friend told me how one of his co-workers was the most dishonest, angry, aggravating, unfair individual he’d ever met. When the two were together, however, you’d think they were best buds.

As a father, I feel I have a responsibility to teach my 6-year-old son about honesty. I don’t want him to become dishonest and two-faced like my friend there.

“If you don’t like someone,” I told the boy, “well, that’s okay. But that doesn’t mean you have to lie to his face and say he’s a great guy, then turn your back and call him a jerk.”

My son knew just what I was talking about -- he’s smarter than the average 6-year-old.

“You look old,” my son told Grandma after seeing her for the first time in several months.

“Why’d you say that to Grandma?” I asked him later.

“Because she looks old.”

“Well don’t tell her that,” I said.

“But I wanted to be honest.”

“It’s good to be honest,” I told the kid, “but it’s not good to be rude.”

“But if I told her she looks young,” he argued, “then I’d be dishonest. You told me to be honest.”

“If you said nothing,” I replied, “you could still be honest because you didn’t say anything at all. You have to think about people’s feelings, son. Would you want someone telling you that you looked old?”

“Yeah,” he said with excitement. “I wanna be bigger.”

I was getting nowhere. I switched tactics -- I stopped reasoning with the child and told him to do what I say: Tell the truth. Be nice. Or don’t say anything at all.

The next day, the boy got into trouble at day care. He told me that another kid started it.

“Remember what I said about honesty?” I asked him.

“Yeah,” he said.

“Then tell me what happened.”

“The other kid started it.”

“You may think you can lie to me,” I said, “but you can’t lie to God. God knows everything. God knows what you’re thinking. God knows if you’re lying. God knows everything. EV-E-RY-THING. So I’m going to ask you again -- what happened?”

My son couldn’t speak. He was in tears, begging for God’s forgiveness. He feared God’s disapproval. And so, in between sobs, he took a deep breath, and let the honesty pour out.

“The other kid started it,” he said. Then he asked, “Does God know times tables, too?”

I felt my innocent son slipping away from me at the hands of Dishonesty. I couldn’t allow this. I have a responsibility as a dad to raise a good citizen of the community.

I switched tactics -- I stopped reasoning with my boy and punished him for getting into trouble at day care and, more importantly, for lying to me.

“But, Daddy, how do you know if I was lying or not?” the kid asked while in a timeout.

“Like I said, God knows.”

“But how do you know?”

“Because God told me.”

“Okay, you just lied,” my son said, “because I didn’t see you talking to anyone.”

And he was right. I didn’t really talk to God. Here I was teaching my son about honesty and I was being dishonest. A hypocrite. I swore I’d never be that kind of parent. Where’d I go wrong?

But I had good intentions with my lie. It wasn’t an evil lie. That’s right -- the old white lie/black lie speech. I’d heard it a hundred times as a kid. So I regurgitated it back to my son, explaining the difference between the black lie he told to avoid responsibility and my white lie, which I used to get him to tell the truth.

My son knew just what I was talking about -- he’s smarter than the average 6-year-old.

“Okay, Daddy, you wanna know who really started the trouble at day care?” he said. “The other kid did -- for reals.” And my little prince continued to sell me what he thought to be a white lie.

So I punished him for bad behavior and for bad white lying. And I tabled the “honesty” lesson for another time . . . when the kid is older . . . when I can say I did all I could . . . when I can blame public schooling for his lack of truthfulness, and avoid any responsibility whatsoever for his dishonesty. It’ll honestly be the truth.

-June 2010

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