I think of myself as an honest person. I believe that lying is wrong, and that telling the truth is the best way to go. I recently had a situation where it was brought home to me very clearly that honesty is not always the best idea in every situation and it has made me reconsider the policy itself.
“Mommy I can’t breathe.” Four of the most terrifying words in the English language, particularly when I’m the Mommy. My oldest daughter seemed to be having a reaction to an over-the-counter medication, and a phone call to the nurse on duty at Kaiser advised me to bring her into the emergency room. I gave her a big hug for reassurance as we got into the car, and reminded her to take a big slow breath and let it our gently. She started to cry, and told me she was scared.
“Now, my sweetheart,” I told her in my most soothing tone of voice, “you are going to be just fine, we’re taking you to the hospital to make sure that everything is okay. I know it feels really bad right now, but it will feel better soon. I’m not scared at all, I know you will be fine.”
I was, as a matter of fact, so frightened that I thought I might have to pull the car over and throw up, but as the parent it was my job was to stay cool, be reassuring and get my daughter to the ER so that she could be treated.
So, I lied.
I lied to my child, to allow her to calm down. I did not have to take a moment ask myself if I should lie or not, if my need to be honest could be overlooked or excused, I just lied. It wasn’t until we were leaving the hospital hours later with a diagnosis and a prescription that I looked back at the moment and realized my solid gold policy of telling the truth had a long streak of tarnish.
Some other parents might have taken the high road, and admitted that they didn’t feel so great about it either, but I knew that would just make her feel worse, and I would not risk her feeling any worse, not for a millisecond.
I realized my need for truth has become so big I am at risk of becoming a fundamentalist. There has to be more flexibility, more room for interpretation. Facts are vital, but they are not the whole story, hence the word “story.” One of my favorite authors, Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia-Marquez has a quotation that I love: “Fiction is a way of telling more truth that you can by simply sticking to the facts.”
Consider the famous philosophical double-bind “Do these pants make me look fat?” In this case the amount of truth that can be offered depends upon your gender, your relationship to the one asking the question, and, only as a last resort, the factual consideration of how the pants do really look. Sometimes truth needs to stand down in favor of kindness, or at least diplomacy.
So I’m not disowning my need to be honest, but I think that allowing myself some more room to consider the situation is a better way to go. That I would even think to scold myself for lying to my daughter when she really needed me to lie is clear evidence that I’m being too harsh.
Those pants look fine, really, but they are not my favorite color. Isn’t there something in the closet in a darker blue?