To quote Billy Joel, “Honesty is such a lonely word. " He certainly wasn't kidding. In an age when we need morality and honesty more than ever, people - children included - are being taught that honesty doesn't pay.
It was the night before Thanksgiving, a number of years ago. I was driving home through heavy Long Island traffic, wary as always, of what other drivers might do. As I was driving straight ahead, a car in the opposing lane made a left turn and struck the car I was driving without warning. The car I was driving happened to belong to my grandmother.
Luckily, I wasn't injured, and I got out of the car prepared, quite frankly, to ream out the other driver for being so incredibly stupid, or maybe even drunk. When I walked back to the intersection, what I found was a 16 year old girl, terrified and apologetic, but also, thankfully, uninjured. She only had a junior license, and never should have been driving on such a busy road during rush hour.
She was crying, repeating over and over, “I don't know why I did it. I'm so sorry. " She got out of the car and accompanied me to the safety of the side of the road while we awaited police assistance. What she was most afraid of, was her father. My anger gone, I assured her that the world had not come to an end. We were both unhurt and cars can be replaced, after all.
The police came and we filled out the police report. She admitted complete fault. I still have it in black and white on my well-worn copy of the police report. Our families came to retrieve us, and I assumed we'd have the cars repaired and both try to put the situation behind us.
Was I ever wrong? A month later, I got a call from her insurance company. They called to question a discrepancy between the paperwork the girl's father had filed with their company and the paperwork I'd filed with my grandmother's insurance. The girl and her father claimed that I'd hit her head on.
Later that week, I received a call from the police officer who'd been on the scene. The girl and her father had called the police in an attempt to change the police report. The officer was calling because this was highly unorthodox, and could not be done unless I agreed. It goes without saying that I did not agree.
My grandmother's insurance company denied the girl's claim, so they sued my grandmother for the money, insisting again, that I had hit them head on. Thankfully, through all this, the police report with the girl's initial statement was my one saving grace.
Throughout, I think what bothered me the most was the lesson this father was teaching his sixteen year old daughter. Lie, cheat, cover up your mistakes. Had this been my daughter, I hope I would have used it as a learning experience to teach her that yes, she had made a mistake - a big one - but that she should do as much as she could to make it right, and then move on. That was the ethical code my parents had taught me.
I've paid more attention to the commercials on television since then, particularly those advertising legal services. There are so many of them that you'd need three hands to keep count over the course of a single afternoon. One in particular caught my eye again and again. Their claim was to be able to get money for anyone who'd been injured in an accident, even if the client was at fault.
Children see these commercials. Children watch their parents file false claims with insurance companies and lie to save on their taxes. They hear their parents call in sick to work so that they can go to the beach, deny responsibility when they come home with a dented fender, and lie to their spouses over how much money they've spent on a new blouse. What message is this sending the next generation?
Maybe, that Thanksgiving, the girl's father should just have given thanks that his daughter had not been hurt or killed, and had not killed someone else. Maybe he should have given thanks for the opportunity to teach his daughter an important lesson in morality. Maybe he should have rethought the message he taught his sixteen year old child. Though we all tell our little white lies on occasion, honesty is something that should be encouraged and valued. Children are born honest. Let's not do anything to spoil that.
Lisa is an author on http://www.Writing.Com/ which is a site for Writers .