Where adults dwell more in the gray areas, children see honesty as black and white.
But as my children become older, I realize how closely they are watching my every move. When I sneak a sample from the bulk candy bins, it doesn’t matter that I want to try it before I buy it…to them, it is stealing. What is gray area for me is black and white to them.
And really, honesty is a matter of black and white. Either you bought it or you didn’t. Either you told a truth or a lie. Either you obeyed a rule or you didn’t. Imagine if we all had the strong moral compass of a six-year-old.
Before you become a parent, you have certain plans about how you want your children to behave and what values you want to teach them. In reality, kids teach you just as much, if not more about how life should be. Ever since our summer trip to the Oregon coast when my six-year-old taught me a valuable lesson about honesty, I’ve been thinking about how I’ve diverged from complete honesty and used justifications to get what I want. Maybe we all have.
We were on a beach at low tide, exploring tide pools and looking for treasures along the rocks. At the entrance to the beach was a large sign asking beach combers not remove anything. My oldest daughter asked what the sign said. I explained the rule about not taking anything home with us–no rocks, shells, or sea creatures. “Why?” she asked. I explained how if everyone took what they saw, there would be no beautiful things left for others to see.
After dipping our hands in pools full of sea anemones and touching sandpaper rough star fish, I glanced down in the rocks to see the most beautiful piece of turquoise sea glass. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. My six-year-old saw me and immediately called me out. “Mom, why are you taking that?” Several justifications ran through my head: Um…finder’s keepers…because I want it…it’s so small I doubt anyone else would have noticed it…
But dang that black and white business. Taking that rock was breaking the rule, therefore it was stealing. Why did I need a child to tell me that?
Since that trip, I’ve been more cognizant of the fine line between being honest and being dishonest. Even if the subject doesn’t seem like a big deal…like sampling candy from the bulk bins…either I’m being honest or I’m not. I can’t help but wonder, why is this principal so hard, even for adults?
Case in point, and perhaps something like this has happened to you; I took the kids to the pumpkin patch recently and discovered I would have to pay full price for my little one who’d just barely turned of age. Like one week ago. If I’d come last week like we’d planned on, I wouldn’t have had to pay for her…what difference did a week make anyway? “Three tickets please,” I announced to the cashier.
“But mom, there are four of us,” coming from my six-year-old again. I should be grateful to have a real-life Jiminy Cricket on my heels.
Even if one week is not a big deal, was she four or three? Black and white. Was $5 really worth damaging my honesty and subpoenaing up my children as witnesses?
On a daily basis, our honesty is put to the test. The hurried cashier who missed that pack of gum while she was ringing up your groceries…her bad—besides what does $1 matter? You’ve paid enough money to Walmart over the years that I think they could spot you one tiny pack of gum. Black and white. Did you buy it or not? If not…that’s considered stealing, and really, is $1 worth damaging your honesty?
When the insurance salesman asks if he can come over on Thursday night to review your policy, do you really have plans or not? Black and white.
If we all had the concise honesty of children, we would inform the cashier that she forgot to charge for the gum. We would decline Thursday’s insurance appointment because “we just don’t want to deal with it right now.”
Maybe honesty is more black and white than what it’s been turned into. And maybe, you’ve got someone watching you very closely too.