There was an interesting story on the NPR Story Corp. A 94 year old gentleman originally from Atlantic City, NJ shared a shameful secret that he has been harboring all these years:
"When I was 8 years old, I was running in the schoolyard and my arm struck the eyeglasses of one of the students. And he began to cry. He was going to tell his father. It would cost two dollars to fix the glasses. And I was frightened to death — where was I going to get the two dollars? We had a cleaning lady by the name of Pearl, a black woman. And I knew that every week, she’d get two dollars for her services. On this particular day, I was so terrified, I took the two dollars, and took it to the teacher and settled the problem of the broken glasses.
When Pearl finished her day’s work, she went for the two dollars and they weren’t there. And my mother said there was no question that Pearl took the two dollars and didn’t admit it. And my mother was so angry, that she told Pearl not to come back anymore. And then the word leaked out that Pearl was a thief, and Pearl couldn’t get another job. And she had several children.
I was the only one who knew the true story. And I didn’t tell anyone. And I was smitten with grief at what I had done. I kept that secret to the age of 94, which is hard to believe, but the event never left me."
What a story. Makes one realize that our parents' admonishment to tell the truth regardless of the outcome was true. I know that as a parent, a lie sets me into an orbit of anger. I have always said that I prefer the truth (and would try and not get angry even if the truth and the subsequent incident was caused by stupidity or poor judgement) over any lie. Lying has deep implications. There is no such thing as an insulated incident. The choices we make in one incident affect the choices of others. It becomes the domino effect. What happened to Pearl? Since she was "blackballed" from getting another job, what did she do? What happened to her children?
It reminds me of the analogy of toothpaste and lies. When we lie it is like squeezing too much toothpaste out of the tube. It cannot go back. We must be judicious in how much toothpaste we use. So too, we must be judicious with the words that we use. We have to weigh our words carefully. Once a lie is spoken, it is out there forever. We can try and rectify it but ultimately the words cannot go back. And in the case of destroying a reputation, those lies are toxic.
Certainly, one can see the rationale behind the eight-year-old's decision; he was scared, he wanted to do what was right with the glasses and he probably didn't think the $2 was such a big deal for his mother- she could just give Pearl some more. He probably never thought that his mom would accuse Pearl of taking the original $2 and claiming that she didn't get it.
And, who are we to judge? After all, I am sure all of us have had situations where we have lied and not "fessed" up. Perhaps we would tell ourselves that those little white lies didn't harm anyone, but did they? Do we really know the lengths and depths of the impact of the words we say? In the case of this elderly gentleman, the lie was with him his entire life.
What about you? Have you ever done something of which you were ashamed? Have you ever told anyone? Is it something that you can try and "repair" any damage?
What do you do when you encounter lies in others? Do you challenge it? Do you ask for the truth? Do you have to be a detective to suss out the truth? Is it worth the effort?
Maybe our tube of toothpaste can be a daily reminder that our words are to be truthful. That anything coming out of our mouth should be used for good.