Raising Honesty

I am trying to teach my children to tell the truth.

At this point in their lives, the truth is pretty straight forward.  It’s usually something along the lines of “who peed on the floor?” and one of them has dry pants on and one doesn’t – and is standing in pee.  Not a lot of room for interpretation or revisionist history there.

The thing about parenthood, though, is that you start projecting forward and looking to lay down a foundation now for future behavior.  I want to teach my children to grow into adults who tell the truth.  So, I start pondering the more universal question – what is the truth?

Well, it depends on who you ask.

If you ask my kids for the truth, you are going to get wildly different answers that may or may not even touch on the question itself – even if you ask the same kid the same question multiple times during the same minute.  If you ask two people in a relationship for the truth about their relationship, the answers may vary even more wildly than do my 2 year old’s.  If you ask a Palestinian and an Israeli, a Basque Nationalist and a Spaniard or a Hutu and a Tutsi for the truth about their respective situations you are certain to get radically opposing responses.

So, the truth is really a subjective paradigm, giving birth to more questions rather than providing defining answers.  The truth, as they say, is elusive.

Maybe, then, what I am trying to teach my children is honesty.

Now, that is a little more definable.  Honesty is a characteristic implying sincerity, fairness and truthfulness.  While the truth may be dependent upon one’s perspective, honesty grounds that perspective and expresses it without regard to self-benefit.  Honesty takes the focus off of self and places it on the whole.  Honesty is noble and just.

That is what I want to teach my kids.

Here’s the problem, though.  How do I raise my children to be honest in a world full of deceit and lies?

Being an honest person, I obviously need to first look at how my parents taught me.  They bathed me in it.  Countless of my substantial memories from childhood (aka Parenthood Boot Camp) are rooted in the teaching of honesty, despite the fact that my dad is an attorney. (I kid, I kid)  My sister and I were, I think, taught the value of honesty as much as we were taught anything else.  We were very powerfully taught by example by two of the most honest people I know and we were consistently taught by consequence.  We were taught to recognize honesty and to respect it.  We were taught that honesty is the foundation of who we are.  I understand very well that the lessons for my daughters must start here, and they do.

I must admit, though, that I am concerned by the fact that the world is a very different place now than it was when I was an impressionable lad.  Don’t agree?  Go talk to a teenager today and see how much they remind you of yourself as a teenager.  Information is immediate and global now – and so is bullshit.  In this capitalistic, corporatized world dishonesty is the norm.  Consumerism rewards deceit and our culture’s sacred cows have all been monetized and packaged for resale.  All of the voices we hear from the media to the politicians to the corporations to the clergy cloak their true agendas and drench us in lies.

I could rehash the lies we are told and finger the perpetrators, but there is no need.  We all know.

So, what is an honest dad to do?

I can try to fight the lies, to expose the liars, to scream for justice – and I have many times in my own ways – but, increasingly, that doesn’t make much sense to me.   I don’t think, as I once did, that the lies can be defeated that way.  Battling the lies is a losing effort.  It is pointless and exhausting as they are, sadly, everywhere.  More importantly, what would that battle teach my daughters?

They don’t need a martyr, they need a father.

Life is a choice and is about directing energy.  I can choose to move toward the lies and fight them on their terms, destined to fail, or I can simply move away from them and choose to embrace and embody love, walking my own path of honesty.  I can choose to move toward Truth.  Not the who-peed-on-the-floor kind of truth, but the living a life of honor and integrity and justice kind of Truth.

The lies that have taken over this world can’t be battled in the confrontational sense.  To stand and rail against them would be to stagnate my own life, adding to the disease in a very real as well as figurative sense.  These lies would consume me; they wouldn’t dissipate, they wouldn’t retreat and they wouldn’t go away.  To use a readily available metaphor, if you spend a whole lot of time dealing with bullshit, you are bound to get some on you.

To move away from lies and the bullshit and to embrace the Truth is what I would want my daughters to learn.  That path is recuperative and it is contagious.  Echoing the cries of so many bumper-sticker philosophers, I will be the change that I want to see in the world.  I will be the Truth that I want my daughters to see in the world.  Walking a determined path of honesty will inspire the Truth in them, just as my parents’ path inspired it in me.

Reflecting on all of that, I guess teaching honesty isn’t that different today than it once was.  Truth is the same.  Truth is in love and in people.  Truth is in the trees and the clouds and music.  It is in real food and it is in real relationships.

As I sat in my daughters’ art class this morning I could hear the sounds of discovery and laughter and the miracle that is real life.  That is Truth.  That is honesty.  It wasn’t clouded by any bigger picture or ulterior motives.   It was real.  It was a powerful moment for me because that is how they will learn.  They were, like I was as a child, surrounded by the Truth.  It was in their classmates, the other parents, the teacher and the sweet applesauce and cinnamon Christmas ornaments that they made with their own hands.

The lies are, indeed, everywhere and louder than ever, but still amount to nothing.  Truth is within each one of us and is eternal.  We create it every single moment with every single breath and we can find it with intention, patience and silence.

We just have to try.  And if we try, our children will learn.


About Mitchell Brown

I am a stay at home dad with my two daughters who are a lot stronger than they look. When I'm not cooking, cleaning, dancing, reading, teaching, playing or protecting my eyes and groin, I am writing about this whole experience in all of its ridiculousness.
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14 Responses to Raising Honesty

  1. Seattledad says:

    Great post Mithcell. I have a feeling your kids will be just fine.

  2. Jett says:

    This was lovely.

    Accountability is paramount in our home. It’s important, period. As a parent, I can brook a lot of nonsense but delusion –or self or others– really wears me out.

    Good job, you. Keep it up.

  3. Maggie Batt says:

    The truth will set you free……

    There will be many opportunities to teach your girls honesty as they grow and interact deeper with other children. So many situations come up that demand gentle attention. Shall I tell my friend I don’t want to spend the night, that they mad me mad or I don’t like it when she picks on my sister. All requiring delicate truths. I find my daughters learn best by my examples. I watch them quickly copy my mistakes. Now that my nine year old is quite socially active, we find many opportunities to speak our truth. Truth can look diffferent in each person’s eyes. To speak your personal truth means that you do what feels right to you, not society, your friends or peers. Great topic Mitchell!

    • Thanks for sharing your experiences, Maggie. I find the words of parents who have been through the things that are still to me just theoretical to be so valuable.

      And, as I said yesterday, I truly appreciate you sharing your time and your thoughts with me.

  4. Joshua says:

    I absolutely agree. I was taught everything I know of honor, integrity, and honesty not by listening to my parents, but watching them. They set a pretty high bar, and I always wanted to reach it.
    I hope I can do the same for my children.

    Great post!

    • Thanks again, Joshua. I consider myself so blessed that I can say that my parents have provided such an example, like yours did for you. Your daughter is so lucky to have a father who was given that gift. That’s the good stuff, my new friend.

  5. Jillian says:

    Raising 3 boys, if I do nothing more in life than teach them how to be honest, charming and kind than I have done enough. But then again, what about driven, motivated, heroic and sexually safe?

    Wonderful writing. Glad to have found you on Twitter’s #FF.

    • Well said – our responsibilities as thoughtful parents are so great. Your 3 sound like they are in good hands with a mom who considers so much. Thanks for your comments (and the ideas for future posts 🙂 )

      Thank you – I’m so glad you found me, too – I appreciate you sharing your time with me.

  6. Meka says:

    Beautiful Mitchell. I don’t tolerate lying well and in our house the rule of thumb is that if you are tell the truth You won’t get in trouble (or at least I won’t be as upset with you). Then we just deal with the choices that brought us to that situation. If you lie we have to deal with the lie and the choices that brought us there. My son is honest to a fault.I have always so appreciated that. Except for the other day. His lie led to a long string of events that did not work out in anyones favor. He told the truth an hour later and I was fortunate to be able to show him how the lie got us into more trouble and sadness that the truth.

    I feel that the truthful person is one who is true to themselves as well. Confident in themselves and their surroundings. Maybe in setting the example in ourselves and teaching that “me” whoever me is, is beautiful inside,worthwhile and treasured is part of teaching the truth. Your girls are going to be just fine. I happen to know their parents and they exude truth and honesty:)

  7. Brad White says:

    Great stuff man – thanks for sharing.

  8. lpfischer says:

    I definitely agree on the truth vs. honesty distinction. I can’t ask children (or anyone) to speak “the truth”, ’cause who’s to judge what is the truth? But I can ask for honesty, and I can myself try to be honest and speak of the world as I see it.

    The thing I value most in a person is integrity – that you stand by who you are and how you feel about things. To me, that’s all about being honest about the essential aspects of self and relationships.

    Thanks for a good post.

    • I couldn’t agree more about honesty and integrity being interwoven – integrity is honesty with regards to self. Thank you so much for coming by and reading. I appreciate your time. I’ll be heading over to your blog shortly.

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