“Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”...
Just this week another American politician fell to the consequences of perpetuating a lie. It seems a weekly occurrence in that profession. Usually public opinion is split on the gravity of the offense and the more liberal among us often choose to soften its impact by calling it a “cover up”. The grander-scale variety of lying is not as easy to pull off as it once was. A big betrayer of untruths is the computer who refuses to form an allegiance to anything but the facts. And, individuals whose corroboration could once be bought with a few thousand dollars are now realizing much larger pay days as informants or news breakers.
In my opinion, the practice of mea culpa or falling on one’s sword is overworked and overrated. The parade of confessors and tearful apologizers has desensitized us to the point that, sadly, we tolerate our leaders committing acts of dishonesty and betrayal. It seems society does not want to impose superhuman expectations of practical wisdom and ethics on these mere mortals, so we dismiss a lot of the actions of elected officials, teachers, clergy or law enforcement. When I was growing up, these people were pillars of trust and admiration in the community; someone to emulate or aspire to.
I tend to hold the sports and entertainment industry to a lesser standard since they have not pledged any homage to their fans, even though they are often more imitated and revered as role models.
Where do we learn the value of being truthful? As parents and stepparents, we likely uphold honesty in our homes and count lying among the more punishable offenses. Lying is typically utilized as a tool to avoid punishment, discomfort, inconvenience or even to prevent hurting someone’s feelings. The caliber, intent and impact may differ, but everyone lies. From occasional to the pathological, everyone, at some time, justifies an edited version of the truth.
I would categorize my dad as an honest man. He was strict in his interpretation of the truth. When I was a teenager I wanted a Princess phone in my room so he purchased and installed one for me. A few months later the telephone company was coming to do some unrelated work in our home. Dad told me to keep my bedroom door closed since they didn’t need to know I had this new phone. He didn’t tell me to lie about it, but I got the message that there was a reason to not reveal it. I greeted the repair man that day and he asked me how many phones were in the house. I dutifully said, one. He proceeded to call our number on his handset and to my horror…the phone in my room rang. When it all came to the surface, I realized my dad had rigged my phone so we would not have to pay for a secondary line. To right the wrong and turn it into a teachable moment, he admitted what he had done and asked the technician to legally connect the phone and add it to our account.
We expect our kids to tell the truth. We teach them to be honest by not withholding or misstating information. Purposely omitting the truth is still a lie. We close their loopholes by minimizing our own. At the same time we strive to create an atmosphere where truth, no matter how brutal, can safely be spoken in our presence. Teenagers are quick to retreat when their transparency is met with judgment. Newly created families are especially vulnerable to the temptation to lie. We are revealing ourselves to one another but at the same time want to put our best possible face on.
Examining our daily actions might uncover some unintended messages. Whether we tell the kids to say we’re not at home when we are; or we take them out of school for our convenience under the guise of a medical appointment or if we sneak purchases into the house to avoid unwanted discussions about finances…we are creating a double standard: parents can lie if they need to, but children are held to stricter accountability. Beware that double standards will quickly disillusion teenagers and often take their actions underground.
How we handle the expectation we have for honesty in our families is largely dictated by the trust we build in our relationships. To create trust it is important that we do not practice deception. Remember, people resort to lies in order to protect themselves from being exposed and it usually requires another lie to support the first one.