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by Celia Straus
"Truth is what is real; it describes how things really are. Truth is the skeleton life hangs upon; it adds shape to everything in the universe. God's truth leads us to what is real, to what is accurate. Just as our DNA contains the form that our physical life will take, God's truth contains the form that our soul and spirit take."
~ Changes That Heal by Dr. Henry Cloud
When Emily was in second grade and learning about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, the students were asked to create a shield composed of a family crest and motto. Her motto was, "Sorry Don't Feed The Bulldog", a line from the 1970s television series, "Mash", and an excellent choice for the Straus family (although possibly a little obscure for her seven year old peers). My husband, Richard, started using the line when someone in our family would cross over another person's boundaries or do something selfish or thoughtless and mindlessly say, "I'm sorry". The assumption was that these two words would get them off the hook quickly and easily even though both parties knew it wasn't the truth. Or motto is still heard around the house today as much as it was eight years ago. For example:
Emily: "You wore my brown turtleneck again after I asked you not to, and now it's pitted out."
Julia: "I'm sorry."
Emily: "Sorry don't feed the bull dog."
Richard: "You're using my college T shirt as a dust cloth? You know how much that T shirt means to me. Even the holes have meaning."
Celia: "I'm sorry."
Richard: "Sorry don't feed the bull dog."
Celia: "Why did you download all that music onto my laptop when the last time you did that, the computer crashed and I was an insane person for days. It could have happened again."
Emily: "I'm sorry."
Celia: "Sorry don't feed the bulldog."
Richard's aim was to encourage a more mindful response -- one that might take some thought (and maybe even a few minutes), but culminate in an honest interaction. Like every family, our lives are full of small daily conflicts that can be resolved with a truthful response, but are often deflected with a lie. "I forgot." "I didn't mean to." "I didn't think you'd mind", "I got it confused" "I misspoke" "I'm sorry." Our motto is a gentle way of reminding someone that they're not being honest without blowing the interchange entirely out of proportion with accusations: "You're not sorry at all." "Are you calling me a liar?" "Yes." "Well now you owe me an apology." And so on. During adolescence it becomes even more important to strike a balance between parental control so rigid that any confrontation results in a self-defensive lie, and not holding your daughter accountable for much of anything. In other words, honesty with a light touch.
It's not always easy to strike the right tone between teaching the importance of integrity and trusting that our daughters already possess a spiritual understanding of integrity and need us only as role models. When controlling our child is our strategy, we can develop a pattern of personalizing authority over our daughters. We take it personally when she does not behave according to our expectations. We neglect her right to experience life for herself and make her own mistakes. Put simply, we take so much personal responsibility for our daughter's life that we do not trust her to be responsible for it. In self defense, she begins to distrust us, and our connection with truth can begin to fragment.
We can counter this disconnection by paying a little more attention to the truths we have in common such as the shared goodness of our spiritual selves. Keeping focused on the values and vulnerabilities that we share makes it easier to be flexible about topics we don't agree on. Every time we speak the truth, not in terms of scientific fact, but in terms of what we know in our hearts to be essentially right and good, we take one step closer to living truthfully. I've talked to my daughters about how you live the truth in different ways, such as speaking it, standing up for what you believe in (as long as what you believe in does not infringe upon the rights of other people), and being true to your real self, not the one you create to please others.
Making this commitment to truth isn't easy. I spent most of my adolescence telling lies whenever it seemed expedient to do so, so I know. However, lying isn't so easy either since it makes your life complicated, and you're always afraid you'll be found out. Truth takes time, reflection and often, tremendous courage, but it has distinct benefits: 1. Truth teaches you to pay attention 2. Truth makes your life simpler. 3. Truth fosters trust and visa versa. 4. Truth feels good. 5. Truth pleases your soul.
As Robert Lawrence Smith says in A Quaker Book of Wisdom, "If there is that of God in every person, truth is the best that there is in each of us - the part of us that is naturally drawn toward the good, toward God." Each time we make a conscious decision to be guided by our inner voice and speak the truth, we become better at life, both as individuals, and as parents. For, as Smith goes on to say, "The prick of conscience that comes with the violation of truth is a reminder that integrity is the first principle of life, a principle all of us want to instill in our children - not only out of some vague sense of morality, but for the most practical reasons as well. Our ability to trust one another, in love, in business, in every arena of life, can only be based on a mutual commitment to honesty." Truth and trust go hand in hand, and both generate from, as Smith explains, "the best there is in each of us", the part of us where God resides. Connections between mothers and daughters based on truth are infinitely strong, strong enough to withstand the emotional tumult of adolescence. For it is our "mutual commitment to honesty" built on trust that can keep communication lines open during the most challenging of crisis.
A "mutual commitment to honesty" means accepting responsibility for the truth of who we are and relating to others truthfully. This is frightening. If we take responsibility for being honest with those around us, we often feel exposed. By speaking the truth, we fear that we're opening ourselves up to anger, laughter, sarcasm or being ostracized. In their book The Day America Told The Truth, James Patterson and Peter Kim estimate that 91 percent of us lie on a regular basis. For years I was oblivious to the "little white lies' my daughters overheard me tell: To my mother - "I love the tropical bird place mats and napkins. I'm going to use them the next time I have people over for dinner". To my husband - "I always take your gastrointestinal complaints seriously." To a client - "Darn, no, I can't work over the weekend. We're going out of town for a family thing." To them - "I swear to you, the only person who's going to notice your pimples is you." "Only two more minutes on this phone call and we can go." "Having a tooth pulled is no big deal", "I'm not upset, I'm just tired." "Nothing's wrong". - oblivious, that is, until I began to see the impact of these seemingly innocent "untruths" on them.
For even the littlest of lies weaken our connections to one another. If I would not share my true feelings with Emily when she asked me if I was upset, why should she share her feelings with me? She began withdrawing. By not letting Emily into my inner world, she began refusing me entry into hers. By not paying attention to my words, I was demonstrating to her that she didn't need to pay attention to hers.
Accordingly, with Julia, if I would not tell her the truth about how she looked, why should she believe me when I told her she looked terrific and she really did? She began doubting. We all know the power of praise and encouragement on our children. Our ability to use positive messages to strengthen and affirm our daughter's self image is a precious gift to be handled with care. I was squandering this gift by being falsely reassuring all of the time. We want to respond positively far more than negatively, but at the same time, we need to strike a balance so we're not "loose with the truth."
It's a lot easier to be truthful with each other, if we are truthful about
ourselves. As Robert Smith points out, "Living in each
of us is a seed of the divine, an inner light of truth. Although
it's there, we must turn toward this light and acknowledge its
power to illuminate our path." In other words, this
truth is not a judgmental truth defined by "shoulds"
and "musts", but a truth that comes from the inner
light of our spiritual self or soul. Following this light of
truth keeps us on a path of integrity, enabling us to form honest
and authentic relationships that last. However, determining
who our true self is, and then allowing that self to speak and
live with integrity demands awareness, focus and more often
than not, courage, particularly if we are trying to role model
truth for our daughters. We all want our daughters to be happy
and secure and successful in their relationships, but we cannot
live our daughter's life for her. We can only live our
own lives truthfully and be truthful with her. Although we may
fear we will lose the intimacy we had when she was a child,
in actuality, our truthfulness will bring us closer. The more
we help our daughters achieve the truth of their own identity,
separate from us, the closer we will become to them.
tells us, "Truth is the beginning of every good thing,
both in Heaven and on earth; and he who would be blessed and
happy should be from the first a partaker of truth for then
he can be trusted." Yet, partaking of truth can be
difficult in today's society when most people assume that others
are lying. We are skeptical about the truthfulness of our politicians,
business leaders, advertisers, press, sports and entertainment
celebrities and often the people we work for or with. Many of
us have adopted, at one time or another in our lives, the utilitarian
ethic that a good end justifies the means, even if the means
is a lie. This is partly because in a world where everything's
relative, many people considered truth to be irrelevant or even
nonexistent. Teaching our daughters to rely on their "inner
light of truth" can be an uphill battle, when we are surrounded
by cynics who question whether speaking the truth is possible,
or worse, tell us truth doesn't matter, but we can do it, one
truth at a time.
everyone else I'm creative and bold
To everyone else I'm quite fine
To the outside world success is my game
To the outside world luck is mine.
they don't understand what is happening inside
They don't detect the confusion
They don't know what I go through alone
The struggle I have with illusion.
wish I could say what I feel
I wish I could show my true soul
I want to be real, not pretending
Pretending takes too great a toll.
More Prayers On My Pillow ~
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