Friday, February 27, 2015

On Lying.

Confucius said, "I do not see what use a man can be put to, whose word cannot be trusted. How can a wagon be made to go if it has no yoke-bar, or a carriage if it has no collar-bar?"

14. Confucianism. Analects 2.22
From: http://www.unification.net/ws/theme062.htm

We all do it, even though we know we shouldn't. Every major religion condemns lying; you can see for yourself if you click on the link above. If it's so universally frowned upon in practically every culture on Earth, then why is it so common?

Let's be honest. (Ha.) Who hasn't made their lives a little bit easier with the occasional untruth? "I love your new haircut!" "My cell phone was dead." "Oh I didn't know you were coming into town!" Or, my favorite: "No. I'm not mad." Lies make our day to day existence a little easier. They can smooth over hurt feelings. They allow us to better get along with each other. So how can they be so bad?

I was raised a very strict Catholic, and I took the whole "Ten Commandments" thing seriously. Thou Shalt Not Lie? Okay. From God's lips to my ears! Even if a lie could have gotten me out of a tight spot, I refrained. I softened the truth, perhaps, but I always told it. Almost always, anyway. And if I was weak in the moment, and I did tell a lie, I would later confess it and explain myself, hoping for forgiveness. But to my parents, and I'm being honest here, I hardly ever lied. I'm sitting here trying to remember a single lie I told them, and I cannot. I was a very truthful kid. I took truthfulness so seriously that my honesty became widely known and appreciated about me. One guy in my college told another girl he liked me because I seemed like I'd always be straight with them, and I mostly was. (Mostly. Once I made a painful mistake that I'll always regret because I didn't understand the relationship I was in, but that's another blog post.) Once I graduated, my boss was fond of exclaiming about me: "Amy is the most HONEST person you'll ever meet!" I liked being known for that. It made me feel really good.

Then, shortly after I graduated from college, my parents began divorce proceedings. My brother and I were both young adults living on our own so there was no custody battle, and our parents had been separated for years, so it ought to have been a somewhat amicable negotiation, but it was NOT. Nasty secrets were dragged from the war-chest; accusations and denials flew through the air like ballistic missiles. Two people I'd have sworn were fairly mature individuals turned into spitting screaming toddlers. I was shocked, and then I was numb, and then I was confused. There were so many accusations flying around that I realized at one point: One or both of my parents are lying to me.

I realize this is common behavior during a divorce. Legal lawsuits rarely bring out the best in people, but when the plaintiffs used to sleep together and know each other's secrets, things can get evil. Even knowing this truth didn't help me cope with the idea that my parents, whom I'd struggled my entire life to be completely honest with, were telling me lies, and about really big important things too.

Then I began to realize that all the adults around me lied, a LOT. My coworkers lied, my friends lied, the frigging President of the United States was telling some whoppers... It seemed like I was the ONLY person in the world who really cared about telling the truth. I was fed up, and I started trying it out. I started lying.

It was about little things at first. "Sorry I'm late but my car broke down." "I can't come to your wedding because I have to work." "Yeah, I've got a cold. Can't come to work today." THEN, the party fund happened.

The party fund.

I worked in a jewelry store for that same boss who was always proclaiming my honesty. Sometimes women would bring their diamond rings in to be steam cleaned. It was kind of fun putting on the safety gloves and getting out the rubber-grip pliers to hold the ring under the vapor that jetted through a tiny spigot, blowing all the dirt and crud off someone's shiny diamond. I loved doing it. It cost the person a couple bucks, but instead of keeping track of such a tiny sale in the register our boss had us put the cash in a coffee can for later use as a party fund. WELL, one day I rushed in to work at the last second and discovered I had no money for a cup of coffee at the nearby coffee stand. I didn't want a caffeine headache, so I borrowed a couple bucks from the party fund to be paid back later. Only... did I pay it back? I couldn't remember. And I was late a few more times, and borrowed a little more, until I lost track of how much money I'd borrowed in the first place. Basically, I was stealing. Little Miss Honesty had graduated to the big time. Yep. That's right. I had become a petty thief.

Little did I know that one of my coworkers was keeping close track of the party fund, and she brought it to my boss's attention that something like twenty bucks was missing, and it came out at an employee meeting. My face went cold, and I sat there embarrassed and feeling like a jerk, but did I own up to it? I should have. I really should have explained I'd just needed some coffee and I'd always meant to pay it back. I didn't, though, and the mystery remained unsolved. Ever after, I had a hard time holding my head up at work. I felt miserable about it. You know what? I still do.

I'd gone from being painstakingly honest to a thief in a few short months.

If I hadn't told those little lies, would I have worked my way up to wholesale thievery? Who can say? Now that I'm older I can recognize how young and confused I was, and I can see that I was acting out. I felt disillusioned with the world, disappointed and let down by people who were very close to me, and I wanted to lash out. I wanted to take advantage of other people's trust the way I felt I'd been taken advantage of. It might've felt good in the moment, but in the long term it feels bad. It's one of my more painful memories.

After that, my boss stopped proclaiming my honesty because, of course, she figured it out. I think all my coworkers kind of realized it must be me. I lost face with them. I lost their respect. I felt degraded, and then I started feeling left out of conversations, and not really "in" with people anymore. Of course the stealing didn't help my image, but if I'd owned up to it, if I'd just been honest in the moment and said, "Oh, that was me. I needed some quick cash and I was going to pay it back on payday. Sorry." People might've been weirded out by it, but I would have been redeemable after that. Because I lied, no redemption for me.

My parents' divorce went through, they settled out of court, the dust settled, and then... There I was. Somehow not the same person I'd been when the whole thing began, but I don't think it was my parents' actions that changed me. My actions, my decision to experiment with being a liar, put a mark on me, and it was a mark that I thought everyone around me could see, and I was ashamed.

So now I'm back to being painstakingly honest, or at least I try to be. Somehow I don't have the same discipline that I did as a kid, maybe because I woke up to how much I was being lied to on a daily basis, because we all do it, right? Ever since I had a taste of how much easier it is to lie, though, it's harder. I struggle more with the temptation. The big one for me is being honest with friends when I'm mad at them. I'm too afraid of losing the friendship. But I try to always tell the truth to everyone. And if the truth is too painful? I try to say nothing at all.

I think that lying is considered a sin in every religion because of this effect it has on the human spirit. There is no dignity in lying, and that's the truth. When you lie you are skirting responsibility, trying to avoid the consequences of your actions, or you're trying to manipulate the people around you, using them as pawns. Lying never comes from a place of strength. It's a sniveling, crawling, sneaking way of wriggling out of the difficulties in relating to other people. Lying is weak. It takes strength and courage to be honest, it really does. That's why so many people lie so much of the time. Honesty is hard. But the person who is honest can always hold their head up. They can always be proud of who they are. And other people usually respect that integrity. In fact, I believe honesty is the only way to deserve the respect of others, but perhaps more important, it ensures the respect of self. Believe me, solid self-respect is worth suffering through those uncomfortable moments of truth telling.

Whether you believe in God or not, whether you believe in the existence of sin, honesty is the more practical route. In the long run, owning the truth is safer, and much more dignified. Honesty is the path to good social standing. Lying is a certain path to disrepute.


Thursday, January 1, 2015

On griping.

First New Years with my husband.
Anyone who follows this blog knows that I'm kind of big into New Year's Resolutions. Last year I resolved not to buy anything for myself for a year. That was kind of extreme, so I only made it about six months, but it was a good exercise that made me realize how materialistic I really am even though I'd never thought of myself that way. This year I'm thinking about something less tangible, but kind of important, and it can be summed up thusly: I do entirely too much griping.

I used to joke that complaining is how I get energy from the universe. Because I was such a prolific complainer, I developed a method that made it entertaining for me and my listeners, employing hyperbole, sarcasm, and cutting wit. This kept me just shy of being insufferable, at least for most people... I think(...?) But lately, perhaps because the world seems to be turning into a hellhole everywhere but here, I've come to a realization that has left me feeling a little embarrassed about my former behavior: I have nothing to complain about.

See? Cute.
My kids are beautiful and healthy, my husband is supportive and loving, both my parents are still living, my kids enjoy a very devoted uncle, and I have the two cutest dogs on Earth. I live in a relatively nice house that backs to a preserved natural area in the middle of my town, situated in sunny Colorado where the weather is just about perfect 85% of the time. I have reliable transportation and access to affordable healthcare through my husband's stable nine to five job. I am self employed in my dream profession, and reasonably well preserved for my age. Most of the time, on most days, I don't have to do anything I don't want to do, and that makes me luckier than about 99% of people on the planet.

The view from my picture window. Nice place to live.
There are things that I wish were different, naturally. As a stay at home mother of young children I feel isolated sometimes, and dissatisfied with my looks from certain angles, and I get irritated by my family when I'm tired and hungry, and I wish my book sales were stronger, but all in all, most of the time, I'm a very happy person.

When I look at the violence in Syria, the oppression of women in Afghanistan, the unemployment and economic uncertainty endured by most people on Earth, I really have nothing to complain about. I am so lucky it's almost ridiculous.

AND SO, this year I resolve to be much less of a complainer. I will be looking on the bright side, and keeping my snits to myself. I will have to find some other use for my wit, and some other way of entertaining my friends. I expect this practice will make me more grateful for my wonderful family, my pretty keen job, and my life in general. I will let you know how it goes.

Friday, November 7, 2014

On Headbangers.

No, I'm not talking about Ozzy Osborn fans. I'm talking about toddlers, the little people with huge emotions, and a specific subset of these little people: Headbangers.

Baby Girl is a head banger. Her anger and frustration escalate so quickly and to such proportions that she can't express her feelings any other way than thudding her head on something hard. Wood door. Wood floor. Sometimes she'll just hit herself with whatever she's holding in her hand: baby doll, magic marker, Play-Doh, her sister's head. It's shocking and scary and very upsetting to behold.

The first thing people always say when I share this is: "Is she autistic?"

"No. She is not autistic."

Then I get the sideways glance, the thoughtful pause in the conversation, and we move on to another topic, because my head banger toddler makes people anxious.

Oh believe me, she makes no one more anxious than me.

But she shouldn't. She has been looked at by occupational therapists, behaviorists, and pediatricians, and they all give her a clean bill of psychological health. She's just a normal kid who, when she feels bad, copes by banging her head. In truth, about 20% of toddlers do this, almost all of them healthy kids who, when they're really mad, put bruises on their dear little foreheads. And believe me, it's awkward walking around with a bruised kid. I have never, ever hit my kids. Ever once. Never. But people wonder about me when they see those bruises, and that hurts.

If you have come to this blog post, I'm assuming it's because you are out of ideas and you've performed a desperate internet search looking for answers. I got all kinds of advice from all kinds of experts, and ALL of them told me some version of this: "Put her in a safe place where she can't hurt herself, ignore the behavior, and she'll stop it."

I followed their advice. I bought a play yard, covered it with foam so she couldn't hurt herself, and we named it The Thunderdome. When she lost control, we'd put her there, saying something like, "You're not allowed to bang your head," and we'd let her tantrum run out. I was told by doctors and occupational therapists and behaviorists and speech therapists this was the right thing to do. For more time than I want to admit here, baffled and scared and worried, I ignored her head banging, walked away, withheld the attention she was supposedly seeking with this violence, assured by these folks she would get the message and stop.

Did she stop? No. She did not stop. In fact, it got worse.

Finally, one day we realized that maybe not every emotion a kid has is meant to seek attention. Maybe not every single behavior they engage in isn't about making Mommy pick me up. Maybe our poor baby girl was banging her head because she didn't know what else to do.  Her emotions were just as scary to her as they were to us, and this practice of isolating her was making her feel alone and rejected when she most needed love and understanding.

It makes me weep. But at least we caught it while she's still young.

We retired Thunderdome. We said goodbye to those well meaning experts. Now, when I see her escalating, getting ready to bang her head with something, I don't walk away, I don't isolate her. I get down on one knee, put a hand on her back and say softly, "You're feeling really frustrated right now! I don't blame you! You wanted things to go another way and they didn't work out, and now you're upset! Let me give you a hug sweetie."

Empathy. Lots and lots of empathy, with a very soft soothing voice, and a gentle touch.

It doesn't always work perfectly, but more and more she puts down the hard object. She comes into my arms. She snuggles against my neck, and I kiss her little cheeks.

Which is what I wanted to do the whole damn time.

Is there a moral to this story? There is, and it's this: When your kid is feeling out of control and scared, don't give her the message you don't want to be around her. Give her the message you love her, you're there to support her. Instead of banging her head, she'll eventually come to you for hugs, and everyone in the house will be MUCH happier. Always, ALWAYS, err on the side of love.

And read this book:
http://www.amazon.com/No-Drama-Discipline-Whole-Brain-Nurture-Developing/dp/0345548043http://www.amazon.com/No-Drama-Discipline-Whole-Brain-Nurture-Developing/dp/0345548043