Thursday, January 21, 2010

Honesty... such a lonely word...

My four year old, Big, has started lying. Most of them aren't whoppers, like stories about events that simply never took place, but she embellishes quite a bit and adds a different ending here and there. It makes the story better, but I suppose I should nip that in the bud. My favorite one so far is that "the scissors flew up all by themselves and cut the picture". Hmmm...

When I have caught her in a lie, she will question how she was discovered before admitting that she lied.She'll ask "did you see me?" or “did the teacher tell you?" Other times she simply tells me that I am mistaken and go on about her business. She has no sense of shame about being caught lying, which I guess comes later, and I have a hard time explaining it to her because it is really about character, which is an elusive concept for a kid. Hell, it's an elusive concept for me.

I like to think of myself as the insect sparing, keep the change, pay it forward person I dream of being, commited to the salvation of all things. I try and live right and am courteous enough to other people. Yesterday, I gave two dollars to a homeless woman who wanted some hot chocolate. Big watched the money go from my wallet to her hand with intense curiosity. She asked why I gave the woman the two dollars, as if she might employ that technique next time she hankers for some cocoa. I tried to explain that it was less about what the woman was going to do with the money and more about giving to people who have less than we do. (That was what my Dad told me after I asked him why he gave the obviously drunk guy in a wheelchair some money without being asked).I tried to emphasize the importance of doing the right thing whenever possible.

But then, I think, do I? really?

For example, I have walked out of the supermarket and the security alarm has gone off. The person standing at the door, if there is one, usually waves me on because I appear to be someone who has paid for my purchases and wouldn't be likely to steal. I get to the car, put the kids in their seats, and, as the stroller collapses to go in the trunk, the bottle of Children's Motrin I set on top of the stroller hood falls to the ground. I totally forgot about it. I did set off the alarm. I look back at the store from our spot at the very farthest edge of the enormous parking lot. I look at both kids strapped in their seats and grousing for a snack. I think of all the overpriced food I have bought in the last twenty years from the corporate giant with the nerdy name, and I get in the car and drive away, Motrin in hand. Crime committed and neatly rationalized.

Part of me worries that I will pay for this later. Perhaps one of my kids will desperately need some Motrin and they will be sold out? Or one of my kids will drink an entire bottle of Motrin and I will have to rush them to the ER? No, I don't think that Karma makes deals with corporate behemoths, but in my experience, Karma gives back in kind plus a little extra punch. I lifted a pair of Crocs from the lost and found at swimming class a few years back. They had been there for months, almost new lime green, the holes filled with little crowns and gems. I forgotten Big's shoes that day, and they were her size. I had every intention( sort of) of returning them when we came next week but somehow, Karma got me, and they evaporated along with a brand new pair that I had just purchased as well. Karma doesn't mess around with me- instant payback, within a week, and double to boot.

Earlier this year, a cat wandered into the backyard and never left. His name is Milo, and he is fabulous. He clearly belongs to someone and I intended to find his owner in the first few days, but the kids were so taken with him that I held off. My printer was broken (I just fixed it a couple of weeks ago, by the way), and I somehow never got my lazy ass to Kinko's to make copies of a flyer I had written about a found cat. Days turned into weeks. I took him to a local vet to see if he was chipped. He wasn't. I eventually took him in to get his shots and decided to keep him. No one came looking. No signs went up with his face on them and the desperate plea for his return. Ownership is nine tenths of the law...or something like that, right?

As I await payback for the cat, I do hope that Karma gives me some credit for enduring his ankle biting nature and his insistence on bringing his hungry relatives around for meals. I hope Karma understands that I didn't snatch him from someone's front porch. He found us. He won't leave. So, please Karma, don't rain cats on me, I can really only manage one.

On a more bizarre note, when I was in high school, I stole a library book. It was a Spanish English Dictionary, and I must have been going to do my homework outside the library. I got caught by the head librarian herself. Walked right past her, almost daring her to catch me. I had just been elected class president after the first one ate too many pot brownies and rushed himself to the nurse’s office in a stoned panic. Things weren't going so well that year, so it must have been a subconscious way to freedom. The librarian saw me, took it back and before I knew it I had said" But I got permission!” Well, at my school, any sort of lying was considered forbidden, amoral and grounds for the politically correct equivalent of a public flogging. We had actually signed contracts promising that we would not lie, cheat or steal while we were attending their prestigious prepatory school. Did they know we were teenagers? I mean, if the same principle were applied across the board then all of the girls would get in trouble for lying about their weight, right?

Well, I was "tried" before the Judicial Council, which was comprised of two teachers and two kids from each grade who would hear your case, deliberate and choose a punishment. I told my story, I cried. Mostly from the embarrassment. The entire school knew. Special meetings were held so each dorm knew exactly how lame I was. I had the Presidency stripped, and I think I had to formally apologize to the librarian. I handled it poorly and was so mortified at the lameness of my crime that I couldn't speak about it without sobbing. I burst into tears in front of the entire junior class while trying to explain that I was just as much of a fuck up as the first president had been. I desperately wished that I had vandalized something irreplaceable, stolen prescription drugs or alcohol, or kicked my annoying English teacher -anything less humiliating than lifting a Spanish English dictionary. I paid for that crime with being publicly humbled, though a few of my classmates thought it was absurd. My parents wrote angry letters to the school. The assistant principal had me come to his office so he could read aloud the letter my mother wrote. It was cutting and passionate, appropriately scrawled in red ink. It decried their methods and railed at their ridiculous standards. It said everything that I couldn’t. I actually left after junior year because it all seemed a bit surreal.

As much as I want to respect the doctrine espoused by my high school, it isn't realistic in the real world. I certainly don't condone lying, cheating and stealing but if a person doesn't have the ability to, say, save their ass when stopped by the police, for example, then all of that private school education is sort of a moot point. Again, I am not suggesting that people lie to the police as a matter of course, but if a person has a bag of heroin in their trunk or a dead body that they were about to illegally dump, and the officer asks them if they have anything in the trunk, it seems best to say no.

I have a relative who lies all the time. He used to tell his college professors that someone in his family had a stroke, car accident, lost a limb- anything to get more time to finish his paper or study for a test. I am a believer, if one feels that lying is their only option, to use things that have already happened, like grandparents that have already passed away, rehashing a leg that was broken as a child- not outright fabricating, but changing the facts enough so Karma gets confused and maybe you end up with a parking ticket instead of a head on collision.

It is difficult to teach the concept of truth to a child. All they are told is "tell the truth" from the minute they can talk. Some Buddhist's believe that lying is acceptable if is spares someone's feelings. People do that routinely, so "honesty" is really a relative concept. My child, who is generally an honest person, seems to think lying is an accident. I don't know if this is a smoke screen or that she just doesn't understand the difference between accident and a lie. I would like to say that my lie to the librarian was accidental, but was really just a stupid lame ass mistake. It also exposed me to the world as being what I truly am, which is a very uninteresting criminal and disappointingly human.

Cats don't lie. Dogs are fairly honest and will generally admit to farting with a sheepish look.They rarely protest when they are blamed repeatedly for other people's flatulence. Horses and pigs are not duplicitous. This is not to say that they don't make mistakes, but “I made a mistake" seems to have taken on a whole new meaning. I consider a genuine mistake to be a moment of bad judgment where fear intervened and took over or one put their own desire/need before the greater good. Greed, selfishness, whatever form it takes- it all boils down to getting away with something.

Take Michael Vick, who personally hanged, drowned or electrocuted a few of the low performing dogs in his stable of fighters. He said, after he was exposed, that he made a mistake. He said other stuff about bad judgment and needing to grow up, but the gist of it was that he "made some mistakes". Seriously? I think that knowingly involving him in something as base, amoral and unnecessary as dog fighting qualifies as a bit more than a mistake. He didn't need the money, so why did he do it? For kicks? If he had walked in on a dog fight at his house, for example, and didn't call the police right away, I might call that a mistake, or bad judgment predicated by fear or greed, but to have a dog fighting ring that has a name-Bad Newz Kennels-and a permanent residence on his property for FIVE YEARS is not a mistake. It is sociopathic, and he really shouldn't be allowed to step back into the million dollar game ever again. We tend to compartmentalize our heroes, so even if a hundred thousand football fanatics are also animal lovers, Vick is still a great player and the team might go to the Super Bowl, who cares what he does off the field? After all, he made a mistake. He’s only human. And don't get me started on Tiger Woods.

As far as the lying goes in my house, I guess that I will have to wait for Big to get caught in a really big lie, where the consequences are more than just a punishment. The consequences will have to result in the public acknowledgement that she isn't perfect. Hopefully, it won't be the operation of a dog fighting ring or multiple concurrent adulterous affairs outside of her marriage. Hopefully, we can tackle this before she turns five so her sense of character is intact and she can go forth as a righteous person.

When it happens that she gets caught, she will feel awful. She will feel regret. She will feel ridiculous. But once she recovers, she will realize that most lying really isn't worth it. Lying is after all, a form of self sabotage.Who needs self sabotage when there are plenty of people out there waiting to do it for you?

And I think she needs to learn this:

Instant Karma's gonna get you,

Gonna knock you right on the head,

You better get yourself together,

Pretty soon you're gonna be dead,

What in the world you thinking of,

Laughing in the face of love,

What on earth you tryin' to do,

It's up to you, yeah you.

Instant Karma's gonna get you,

Gonna look you right in the face,

Better get yourself together darlin',

Join the human race,

How in the world you gonna see,

Laughin' at fools like me,

Who on earth d'you think you are,

A super star,

Well, right you are.

Well we all shine on,

Like the moon and the stars and the sun,

Well we all shine on,

Ev'ryone come on.

Instant Karma's gonna get you,

Gonna knock you off your feet,

Better recognize your brothers,

Ev'ryone you meet,

Why in the world are we here,

Surely not to live in pain and fear,

Why on earth are you there,

When you're ev'rywhere,

Come and get your share.

Well we all shine on,

Like the moon and the stars and the sun,

Yeah we all shine on,

Come on and on and on on on,

Yeah yeah, alright, uh huh, ah-.

Well we all shine on,

Like the moon and the stars and the sun,

Yeah we all shine on,

On and on and on on and on.

Well we all shine on,

Like the moon and the stars and the sun.

Well we all shine on,

Like the moon and the stars and the sun.

Well we all shine on,

Like the moon and the stars and the sun.

Yeah we all shine on,

Like the moon and the stars and the sun

-John Lennon

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