I think one of the things that I enjoy most about working with young children is their spontaneous honesty. Oh yes, I’ve been teaching long enough to know they will look you right in the eye and lie like crazy to avoid punishment. But unless they perceive some dire consequence, they will generally tell you the unfiltered truth about almost anything. Yesterday was a good example.
During our morning meeting I asked the children to tell me the “best thing you did this weekend”. There were lots of answers about swimming, riding bicycles, going to Nana’s, etc. Then I got to one little boy and he said, “I stayed home and didn’t have to go to school!” Honesty.
Most of our adult honesty is filtered through a truly amazing process that allows us to answer questions without incriminating ourselves or insulting our inquirer. Our mind or conscience or heart becomes the gatekeeper for our mouth. We learn by experience when, and with whom, we can say certain things. We learn when it is okay to declare what we really think and when it is best to just keep quiet. We discern the consequences of expressing our opinion and decide in an instant if we want to take that risk. We call this “tact” or “diplomacy”. Some people take this to the extreme and only tell us what we want to hear. We call them politicians and pay them huge salaries for their skills.
My mother’s mantra was, “If you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all.” Her admonishment was given to discourage insult and gossip, but I have to wonder if the constant reminder didn’t have an unintended effect as well. For years I also kept my opinions to myself if they disagreed with anyone around me. I hesitated to report any injustice, even if it was against me. I was far too tolerant of the behaviors of others, lest I be deemed judgmental. I took nice to the extreme before I found a balance for my life.
There is very little honesty to be found in our world today. Anything and everything can be edited, altered, touched-up, and white-washed. There are methods of reporting that leave us baffled and confused and ignorant of the facts. There are people around us who care more about their own egos and agendas than telling the truth. Our response might be to throw caution to the wind and just lie if it suits our purpose, but most of us know we can’t do that and still live our lives with fulfillment. So it is important for us to find balance; retain our tactfulness without giving up our integrity. It’s a fine line.
The foundation for that balance begins now, in kindergarten, where I try to teach my little ones to be honest…but without hurting someone else’s feelings or being overly defensive of their own. It’s a fine line.