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.