Sometimes I catch my kids telling lies.
The worst part is that it's always over something trivial. I'll say "Did you bring down all the dirty cups from your room?" and I know they haven't because the cupboard is empty. But they'll look me straight in the eye and say "Yes". It's not a big deal either way. If they told the truth, they'd only get a dirty look and a request to go get them NOW, and when I catch them out, they get much the same. I don't make a song and dance out of it, nor do I do the martyr parent's "disappointment". I can't stand martyr parents. Bleargh.
I'm big on ethics, and my kids know this. They also know that I don't take life too seriously, so there's a balance (as usual) between trying to turn them into fine, honest, upright citizens, and accepting the limitations of human nature.
I'm also aware, no, not just aware, I'm sympathetic to the phenomenon whereby strictness leads to dishonesty. I am a pretty strict parent, in many ways, so I sort of do it to myself.
But I hope that over time they develop their own balance here. Self-discipline is the only worthwhile discipline, after all. I'm trying to turn out bona fide anarchists here.
I am fairly forgiving with human nature overall, but there comes a point as one ages where there are no excuses left.
My grandmother was always on my grandfather's case. She had a special tone, a way of saying "GEORGE!" that had woven into it the sense of "George, you have really displeased me, and you're going to regret it" and also, very much, a sense of "AGAIN".
My grandfather wasn't a bad man, but he didn't learn. He knew what annoyed her, and he did it anyway. Not only that, he'd try to make excuses for it, and they were always pathetic. Totally, utterly pathetic.
So, if he walked his dirty boots across her nice clean kitchen floor, and got that "GEORGE!" with the special tone, he'd quickly rattle off some excuse as to why it had happened. Wasn't his fault. Someone had moved the V-Shaped piece of wood he used to pull his boots off. He had to run in and out very quickly. He thought she'd be cleaning the floor soon anyway. He never took responsibility for his transgressions.
Children learn by watching. I was obviously a confirmed people watcher from an early age, otherwise why would I even remember any of this?
It would have taken no more time to apologize. She would still know that it would happen again, but at least there would be some courtesy involved.
But worst of all, he could dismiss his single word admonition, with a single word in return:
It was said as a growl. It carried with it an unspoken excuse, as if he knew it would make no difference. Pick an excuse, you know it's rubbish anyway.
For years I heard the same thing.
"GEORGE!" (high pitched Cockney squalk)
"Weell....." (low growl)
And we all do it, don't we?
We all offer a pathetic excuse, or no excuse at all. Instead of taking responsibility for doing something we shouldn't. Instead of admitting what we did was lazy or thoughtless.
And sometimes what we do is just plain wrong.
In one way or another "Weell..." is being said by people every day in a million ways.
Now, obviously, there are plenty of people out there who just don't care. They don't even bother to respond to having their bad behaviour pointed out.
But assuming we do care, assuming we are good people, we know when we've done something wrong, and we do have the option to own our behaviour. To apologize. To make amends maybe (clean up our own dirty footprints), and maybe, just maybe, make the effort not to do it again.
It's a choice.