When I was little, like most people, my parents and teachers always stressed seemingly pointless principles to me. To me, they were just words; the adults were just trying to get me to do things to ruin my fun and to make it easier for them to control me. I never actually understood the words or knew why they mattered until I experienced their meaning firsthand.
As a child, my parents always told me not to lie, but I could not ever see why. To me, lying was great; I could do whatever I wanted as long as I did not mess up anything that I could not cover up. If my parents asked me if I had done it, I could just lie. Even if they found evidence against me, I blamed it all on my imaginary friend Ghosty who lived in our minivan. I got by for a very long time cutting up tablecloths and putting dents in doors without learning why I should have been telling the truth about the incidents. Of course, my parents knew I was not telling the truth, but I was a firm believer in the Fifth Amendment. My parents tried to get me to be honest, but nothing worked. They explained to me the importance of telling the truth, but I ignored it. They tried punishing me when I lied, but I knew I would get punished one way or the other if I told the truth about what I did or if I lied. They even read me Aesop’s fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” but as far as I knew, there were not any wolves around. It was not until my
brother Billy lost his shoe that things turned around. When Billy left his shoe sitting in that corner, I finally experienced exactly why I needed to be honest.
When I was smaller, I fought with my brothers, as any sibling knows. Being the youngest and smallest, I generally avoided a direct physical confrontation, as I had long since learned that this was a battle I could not win. Instead, I took a sly aggressive route. If I felt particularly angry with one of them, I would seek out something that they prized or used frequently and hide it. This proved very effective because I could lie to my parents and say I did not know where it was, allowing me to avenge my brother’s transgressions while being protected from harm behind Mom and Dad. So naturally, when Billy did not find his shoe where he thought he had left it, he turned on me. As usual, I went to my mom for protection, but unusually, I actually had not done it this time. But she had figured out what I had been doing (not that hard really), and this time I was not going to get away with it. I spent a whole day being interrogated, yelled at, and losing privileges until the shoe was discovered in a corner of my mom’s bathroom by Billy’s hockey gear. But it was this firsthand experience with what could happen if people could not trust me that taught me about honesty.
Many of life’s experiences are just that, experiences. So it was important for me to come face to face with the morals and ethics I intend to live by, in order to truly understand why I follow my principles and to make them more than just flimsy words, but real ideals. Armed with my encounters with moral predicaments, I can hold to my beliefs through thick and thin because I know why I subscribe to my beliefs.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.