Monday, December 7, 2015

Truthfully on Truth

We tell our kids not to lie nearly every day. We tell them won’t get mad if they are honest with us. And Nothing Bad will happen to them.

But is what we say the Truth? Or just a truth, in lower-case letters, only good for family dynamics until our kids grow up? As adults, we strive to tell the truth but there are plenty of times we don’t.

Some of us work in places like Enron, where telling the truth (a.k.a. whistleblowing) can have serious consequences, including losing our jobs. Others are in dangerous marriages or relationships and we need to lie to a spouse or significant other to get away from them. And sometimes, you have something going on that you just can’t (or won’t) tell your kids.

The title character in my book The Beat on Ruby’s Street discovers during the course of the story that her parents have been living a lie. It’s especially upsetting because the Beat Generation culture in which Ruby grows up seems to emphasize honesty. For Ruby, I think, this situation may be her first taste of what it’s like to grow up.

Does that mean all adults are liars? Of course not, but yes, in a way. Because it’s easier to lie than tell the truth, most of us do it, though how often we do it is anybody’s guess. (A New York Times article I pulled up today says on average, people lie two-or three times every 10 minutes!)

That statistic makes me think of a song by David Crosby that says lying to a child is like “setting a trap for something wild.” I remember listening to that song and feeling guilty about times I short-changed the truth when talking to my son.

On the other hand, how do you tell a three-year-old about the reason for a divorce? When his dad and I separated, my son’s father told him it was because we were fighting all the time. That was truthful but made me feel too much like a failure; instead, I told him we just realized we were better off being “friends” than married.

Now that I look back on it, that was a kinder, gentler way of saying… nothing, I guess. But it made me feel better to say it.

I’ve tried, at least, to be as truthful as possible in the years since that separation occurred. I think the more you lie to a child, the more permission you’re giving them to lie to you. So if you are going to tell your kid to be truthful, you really need to model that. 

And if you want to teach your children how to deal with sleazy workplaces or bad relationships, you need to tell them telling the truth takes courage, and show them why. It may be important to be diplomatic and careful, but there are ways to do that without losing your soul.

We may not know how, exactly. But we know it’s what we need to shoot for. And what we want our kids to shoot for, too.

Good stuff to read:

When Do You Lie? by Katherine Schulten

Age by Age Guide to Lying by Sarah Gonser