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Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Just Lie To Me, Baby.

During my many years as a high school English teacher, this scene periodically recurred. My philosophy about discipline was to shoot straight when the need arose. Classroom infractions were sometimes silly and annoying, sometimes serious and threatening. The fact remains, many problems required some immediate action.

Have you every seen someone who just can't face the truth or claim responsibility for anything? The drama follows.

Student X has been caught red-handed while breaking the rules of the classroom.

Me (after an initial warning in this less serious case):  "Student X, go to the office, and I will be there shortly. You can't act that way in this classroom."

Student X (pleading while attempting to be very convincing):  "Thompson, you're just picking on me. I didn't do anything."

Me (sternly): "Well then, you're a liar. That might be an even bigger problem.Get down to the office now, and we will talk about the whole situation with the principal."

*Student X (defiantly): "You can't call me liar!"

**Me (as straightforward as possible):  "You are (a liar) and I just did (call you a liar). Now, leave the classroom so you don't interrupt others." 

What is a person's word? Why is a person's word such an important item to cultivate?

Being raised in a small rural Ohio town in the 1950s, I got a real view of what it means to place value on one's word (it says--I promise). How critically important the words are that come out of the open mouth. Then, we were taught we needed to rely on the neighbor's help, but our parents and mentors assured us our neighbors would not assist us after even a single lie. I think the first time I was introduced to this was concept involved the "Cry, 'Wolf!'" analogy. The truth, itself, held value for everyone in my tight, dependent community.

In school, elementary through high school, it was unimaginable to expect anything good from lying to a teacher. In fact, most students guilty of breaking school rules knew that trying to "lie out" of trouble meant more trouble. At each link in the consequences chain, an adult provided swift correction, often on the fat of the ass. The teacher would tell the principal about the lie, and the principal would tell our parents about the lie. The buck stopped there. No more questions asked.

I'm talking about preserving integrity here. What a word for study. Integrity means "firm adherence to a code of especially moral or artistic values : incorruptibility." The dictionary definition doesn't do it justice. Personal integrity takes considerable work and time to develop and just a misplaced phrase and a second to disintegrate. 

I love little kernels of wisdom that often stick in my cranium.17th century philosopher Baltasar Gracian said, "A single lie destroys a whole reputation of integrity." And, writer Denis Waitley added, "A life lived with integrity - even if it lacks the trappings of fame and fortune is a shinning star in whose light others may follow in the years to come."

What's Integrity and Truth Got To Do With You? 

Nothing hurts more than a lie by a loved one. Even the hardened criminal understands that pain.

Today, aren't most verbal promises nothing more than tongue-wagging appeasements? It seems few put much value on the truth since Nixon and Clinton lied on television. The understanding of the end of the innocence rocked the foundation of American truth and value. Wouldn't it do your heart good to hear the truth once in a while? And, I mean, the truth without excuses. I mean people taking full responsibility without blaming others.

Let's revise the scene at the asterick.

*Student X (sheepishly hanging his or her head): "You're right, Mr. T., I pushed Billy in the back. I was wrong, and I did lie about it."

*Me: "OK, X, now get down to the office, and we'll figure out the appropriate punishment. You deserve it. At least you preserved your word, and that matters most."

If you are on a mission of self-improvement, this is a great place to start. Take a moment and think of the benefits derived from making your "word" count for something -- a promise kept. (Curt Graham, "Does Your Word (Personal Integrity) Mean Anything?", 2006)

· You are known to be reliable. It means others trust you and know that they can depend on you. Is that important to you?

· You become known among friends, family, and work associates as dependable. It puts you ahead of everyone else as a leader. And it is perceived as a profound respect for others, their time, their planning, their efforts, and their life.

· You become highly respected. You don't have to earn it. It comes to you spontaneously as a result of your dependability and reliability--when you say something, you mean it.

· You become trusted. If there ever was a quality of a person that fuels the ego, stimulates the self-esteem, and brings others closer, it is being trusted.

· You find peace of mind that others never discover. Why? Because your mind and spirit are working together in harmony to let you understand that the qualities you are showing others, helps them--and they begin to see the value of keeping their word.

· You evolve into a role model. Oh yes! You may not want to assume that role--it isn't all that bad! It's a standard that others aspire to, a compliment to your integrity, and an honor that is associated with doing the right thing.

· Your integrity is multiplied. When that happens it brings with it favors, opportunities, and career levels that you never thought possible.

If you can't handle these dividends, fine, just expect to be trampled by those who are rushing to the front ahead of you. No one has an axe to grind here--except you. The standards that mentors and others hold you to are far below the standards you hold yourself to.

People trying to preserve integrity will, undoubtedly, be accused of being overly serious to their own commitments. People will say these idealists have no reason to hold mankind to such lofty standards. Straightlaced? Strict? At times, uncompromising. These adjective all fit many very honest individuals.

But, you must realize that being truthful for the sake of your own character is a rare commodity now.When you discover a trusted friend who has integrity, you will desire it so much. He or she may help you achieve it, no matter your past, IF you don't cry "Wolf!" in a landscape free of danger.

Onto a new closing for the little scene:

Me: "Damn, kid, aren't you the exception to the liars who walk their hypocritical steps with an unmarked fat ass content to be free of the sting of much-needed correction. Now, get to the office and let's strengthen your great integrity. This time it is honestly going to hurt me more than it hurts you."

Yeah, at times, I called you "a liar." Did it fit? Only one of us really knows, I guess. Or maybe two of us.

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