Teaching children conceptual ideals is very challenging. Learning these early in life are critical to a person developing into a trustworthy adult but children are so concrete in their thinking (see it, hear it, touch it) that teaching something that applies across circumstances is challenging. As with most of these ideals, the most effective way to do this is through example. A parent who says ‘please,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘I’m sorry,’ to their children will definitely receive the same FROM them. A parent, who lies to their children and to others, will receive lies. And lying comes in many forms that parents may not realize carry the impact on their children’s sense of right and wrong. Letting a child hear a parent lie on the phone about why they cannot participate in an event is setting an example; a child hearing a parent lie to their mate about their spending is setting an example (even worse, engaging a child in the deception is incorrigible); a child finding out that a parent has been unfaithful is setting an example; a child hearing a parent discuss how they padded their expense account, insurance claim, or tax write-offs is setting an example; a parent who tells a child to lie to their teacher about why they were late or absent is setting an example.
Uh, oh – I hear all the parents out there saying ‘phooey.’ That it’s no big deal to ‘bend the truth once in awhile’ and as one parent said to me once, “That means I always have to be ‘on.’” Yup! That’s the job signed on for. That’s not to say that mistakes aren’t made (that’s where the “I’m sorry,” comes in handy) but when parents live their lives dishonestly, their children will learn the same philosophy. Yes, yes, I’ve heard it before – ‘everybody does it – and why shouldn’t I get mine?’ Take a look at the current economic situation – anybody think there’s a lesson from how all the deceptive practices have rippled out to the innocent? People pad their insurance claims because ‘it’s only an insurance company’ – guess whose premiums fill the buckets to pay those claims? People pad Medicare bills because ‘it’s only the government,’ – guess whose taxes pay those dishonest dollars? I’d like to think that we have more honest people in the world than dishonest but I wonder why all the dishonest ones continue to get away with their deeds. Why aren’t the honest people more appalled and outspoken about the dishonesty? We know its happening because the thieves love to brag, or more simply – it’s always evident when someone is playing foot-loose-and-fancy-free.
Where’d all this come from? $5.00! I recently had a Tag Sale and a gentleman (and I use that term loosely) who clearly had a few bucks showed up at the end of the sale and gathered up many items for which I quoted a price of $25.00 (actually $30.00 but came down). He got friendly with me and my uncle and was chatting us up for quite some time and continued to try and bring down the price. I stuck to my price and he said that since he had just come from running, he only had $20.00 on him. I finally said to him that since he appeared to be an honorable person, I’d be willing to take the $20.00 and trust he would drop the $5.00 off at a later time. It’s been over two weeks. He hasn’t been back. It was clear $5.00 wasn’t an issue – he said that he was a still employed financial adviser so I do believe he’s not hurting as much as others. I’m unemployed and told him so. Yes, it’s only $5.00 and no, it won’t break me – but what it does break is the chain of trust. He talked about his children and I’ll bet he’s had a moment or two of glee with his wife or friends where he was able to talk about the ‘fool who thought he was coming back.’ He set an example to his children. Another individual stole one of the lighters I had on the table. He also set an example for his children. Yet when children lie or cheat, they get punished. They are only mirroring back what they have been exposed to – be careful of what you’re reflecting.