In my limited experience as the mother of four children, there have been various challenges to address and “work on” as I teach and train them to grow to become all that I dream for them. One of those challenges is teaching honesty.
It seems like it’s a lesson that cycles. When they’re very young, the lesson is about not taking things that don’t belong to you, and it usually includes a trip or two BACK to a store to return something they’ve put in their pocket without my knowledge. As they grow and get a little older, the lesson becomes about always telling the truth–not lying to avoid a consequence; for example, not saying their homework is done when it really isn’t so they can go out and play with friends.
I’m still working on this with one of my younger children. Yesterday was no exception. In fact, the attempts to utilize every teaching moment are still in place and are actually more vital than ever because I work full-time and my time with my children is limited by my work. (But again, I am not complaining. I am grateful to have a job.)
As we discussed the importance of honesty at all times, in all things, and in all places AGAIN, and set a goal to strive for that AGAIN, and then as my son walked away to play after we chatted, I couldn’t help but remember one particular moment in 2009. A moment I’d been tempted to lie. It had been a moment among all moments for me. A challenge to my personal integrity and honesty. And until today, I wasn’t sure if I had been a failure or a success.
Here’s what happened.
The day of my move from Colorado to Utah was approaching. It was late afternoon and I’d taken a break from packing to let my three-year-old play outside. He was riding his little bike at the top of our driveway and I kept an eye on him, sure that we were being watched by neighbors as we did so, but I was getting quite used to living in the glare of the spotlight…and the binoculars…and under the hostile gaze of those around me. I had learned to do my thing, to do what I thought was right for my children (and even smile, occasionally, to give the appearance that I was having fun doing it) and to ignore those who spent their time watching me do it!
Soon a neighbor wandered up the driveway, trying to look nonchalant but headed my direction. (This neighbor had not been a client of my spouse’s, but had been very vocal in the media and willing to be interviewed about the situation as she saw it. Her home was the scene of the neighborhood gathering the day the U.S. Marshalls seized the items from our property; her husband was the man who photographed the goings on at our home as he leaned over the fence to do it.) I couldn’t imagine what she wanted to talk to me about. I soon found out.
She wanted to know when I was moving, wanted to know the exact day. She wanted to know where I was moving to, the exact city. She wanted to know how I had a place to live. She wanted to know where I was working, the name of my company and where it was located. She wanted information and details. And although she hadn’t been willing to talk to me through the rest of the nightmare, or even offer a smile or a wave, she was willing to ask me everything she wanted to know.
I was caught off guard. By that point, I panicked whenever anyone approached me, especially a neighbor! I hadn’t expected anyone to talk to me. And I certainly didn’t expect anyone to press me for answers about my personal plans and business. But press she did. When I tried to politely respond in a vague manner, so as not to appear rude, she didn’t quit. She asked for direct details.
I felt like a deer caught in headlights. I hate that feeling, yet it feels like that was my position a lot during 2009! (I guess you could say 2009 was my hunting season. lol.)
I knew why she wanted the information. The victims were circulating a daily email, I’d heard about it from the government and some victims that had received it and didn’t want to be included on it. It basically was a communication of ANY bit of information, even private information about my life or marriage–including things I’d told friends in confidence–ANYTHING they could discover from anyone. And then they published it to, what seemed like to me, the world. (I guess you feel that way when things shared in confidence are not kept that way.)
But then again, what was a little more humiliation in what had become the ultimate humiliation–discovering your spouse had been running a ponzi scheme, had stolen millions of dollars from friends and neighbors and family and strangers, that your spouse was going to prison, that your spouse had told hundreds of lies everyday to you and everyone else, that your children would have a relative in prison…and that all the while, you NEVER HAD A CLUE?
If I hadn’t been so terrified of what would happen should all of that information about my move get out, I could have laughed about the insanity of a non-victim neighbor actually doing what she did. But there was some degree of risk to my situation. For example, the head investigators constantly checked with me to make sure I felt safe from my neighbors. They told me if there was ever a problem to call 911 immediately. They insisted it was necessary they come to my home and supervise my move to protect ME from my neighbors on moving day. Etc…
And if I hadn’t been raised to be polite and honest, the conversation would have gone differently, too. But instead of lying or saying something rude, which I was tempted to do, I didn’t dare do it. I tried to answer her questions, vaguely, and then when she pressed me and pressed me for more details, I honestly answered with the truth! I SO did not want to tell everyone what was going on with me and what my plans were. I didn’t feel it was their business and I wanted to safeguard that information for my actual, physical safety was well.
But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t ignore her. I couldn’t lie. I couldn’t even tell her to mind her own business!
She walked away after she had discovered what she wanted to know and, I assume, share with everyone. And I went inside my house and threw up, literally, wondering if I had put the last nail in the coffin of our fate by honestly answering questions that were not anyone’s business but mine.
I wondered if I had just sold out my chance to rebuild a life somewhere else at the price of my unwillingness to be rude. I wondered if I had just sealed the fate of the physical safety of my children by refusing to lie.
“WHY couldn’t I be rude? WHY couldn’t I lie even once?” I thought. I was sick at my inability to do what I thought was wrong, at even the possible expense of my children. What kind of mother does that? I wondered.
I was so sick at what I had done, although I felt I had done the right thing, and then I finally had to force myself to let it go because I couldn’t change anything about what had happened. I decided to trust that something good would come of my choice to continue to do what was right in spite of the possible negative consequence to me and my children. I hoped we would be safe until we moved, but you don’t get to pick the consequences of your choices, good or bad. I just hoped it would be a consequence I could live with! Literally.
“We tell lies when we are afraid…afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.” (Tad WIlliams) Although I hadn’t lied, I had no reason to be afraid anymore. The truth was out, come what may. And aside from people entering my home late that night when my daughter was home alone and they thought we were gone, no danger to my children and I resulted from my truthful revelations that I know of.
The rudeness I was tempted to respond with, or a lie to protect my children, might have eased some temporary discomfort but I believe this with all of my heart based on that day’s experience: “A lie will easily get you out of a scrape, and yet, strangely and beautifully, rapture posesses you when you have taken the scrape and left out the lie.” (Charles Edward Montague, “Disenchantment”)
That’s the challenge isn’t it? Of life. Of anything.
I have always believed that.
In 2009, I continued to live that–at my peril. Because my parents taught me, “Honesty is the best policy,” and that as Shakespeare wrote, “No legacy is so rich as honesty.” I had always tried to live that way. And given my current financial situation, that may be the only legacy my children will have to inherit from me! lol
I’ve never doubted the wisdom of that…except for that one time in 2009.
But looking back, I am honestly grateful I didn’t cave in to rudeness or fear and act on my temptation to “lie” that day to save my children and I from an unknown flood of hatred and potential danger. I think it was the right decision: “Slander cannot destroy an honest man–when the flood recedes the rock is there.” (Chinese Proverb)
Example is the best teacher. And I’m trying to do all I can to teach my children what they’ll need to know to navigate the very uncertain waters of life, unexpectedly.