Tag Archives: honesty

Take Your Day Off. It Will Keep You Honest

13426114I’ve been doing the 2015 Reading Challenge this year, and I just finished my Book with Antonyms in the Title: The Honest Truth About Dishonesty: How We Lie to Everyone–Especially Ourselves by Dan Ariely. It’s a fun read, with a lot of studies to back up Ariely’s assertions, which are pretty intuitive: everybody cheats on various levels, and we have lots of ways to rationalize it.

I was especially interested in the final chapter, which addresses the role of religion in matters of honesty and integrity:

During one of our conversations, I asked Rabbi [Jonathan] Sacks to tell me which of the Ten Commandments I should keep, if I were going to focus on just one. It was another way of asking him which commandment is the most important one. What do you think his answer was? The one about not worshipping idols? The one about murder?

His answer wasn’t at all what I expected— he said that if I kept only one commandment, I should observe Shabbat. “If you keep Shabbat as a day of rest and reflection,” he said, “the rest of the commandments will most likely follow.” 

Shabbat affects those who observe it in a few ways. First, it offers an opportunity to stop and reflect. In observing this day, we can remind ourselves what we have done in the last week, what we want to do next week, and what our true values are. We can pay attention to our less-than-perfect behaviors that otherwise might go unnoticed, keeping ourselves from sliding accidentally into moral dangers.

This reflective work is exactly why so many of us resist it. Who wants to be confronted with all of our stuff!? But there’s more:

The second way Shabbat propels people to observe the other commandments is by restoring our moral energy. It’s no secret that at the end of a day or week, people often let loose (getting drunk and so on) by allowing themselves to do what their impulsive id-side has been screaming for while they were stuck in their cubicles. We saw this kind of moral exhaustion in the depletion experiment [described earlier in the book]. In that experiment, participant cheating increased after a more difficult writing task, suggesting that in daily life (even without hard writing assignments from social scientists) exhaustion can wear us right down to our ids. Ego depletion (as we call this draining effect), it turns out, affects not only whether we make good or bad decisions, but also whether we obey our consciences.

So having a time of rest gives us a spiritual reset, so our personal integrity and sense of self-control isn’t working out of deficit.

Ariely writes a lot about the financial meltdown from several years ago and scandals such as Enron, Madoff and the like. He talks about what makes it possible for someone to make catastrophic and downright dishonest decisions. He doesn’t make the connection in this chapter, but it seems clear that a culture of overwork creates a ripe environment for dishonesty.

Among industralized nations, the United States is notoriously bad on the scale of paid time off, family and sick leave and the like. This lack of policies doesn’t just make us sick, tired, less creative and less productive. It can also contribute to a sense of moral decay.

My Contribution to the Reality Project

My friend Mary Allison is hosting a “reality project” at her blog, in which people are invited to share pictures of the chaos in their homes as a way of truth-telling. She writes, “These scenes represent the new normal of modern motherhood where everything does not have its place.” There are some great photos there and I agree that humor is the best medicine when it comes to these crazy unrealistic expectations many of us have placed on ourselves.

I love the idea behind the reality project, but I have to come at it from a different perspective. The fact is, clutter negatively impacts my sanity. It’s not to say that my house is free of clutter—it is SO not. Nor does everything in my house have a place. But I cannot let things go more than a couple of days before I begin to unravel mentally. That’s when the White Tornado sweeps through the house. (My husband bestowed that nickname on me.)

So I’ve gotta let it all hang out in other ways.

But lest anyone dub me Ms. Hospital Corners, here is my contribution to the reality project. For those of you who say, “I don’t know how you find the time to do everything you do,” well… here comes some truth:

1. We have no mirror in our bathroom, thanks to a stalled remodel project from well more than a year ago. Also, one of the lights is burned out, and will remain so until they all go and I suddenly realize “Hey. It’s dark in here.”

2. Our Christmas decorations never got put away two Christmases ago. Instead they sat in our garage for all of 2010. Which made setup much easier last Christmas, so there’s that.

3. Our “magazine basket” has three-year-old reading material in it.

4. I’ve kept Netflix DVDs for the better part of a year.

5. On multiple occasions.

6. I use our minivan for temporary storage when I just can’t handle putting stuff away. Current items include a bag of hand-me-downs, a couple of winter jackets, and a broken princess tiara that I would like to Toy Rapture but will get in trouble for if I do.

7. One of our kitchen drawers fell apart, so we’ve got a big bowl of cooking utensils sitting in the corner of our blue room.

8. I haven’t balanced my checkbook in years. Years. Thank God for balance inquiry via ATM and online.

9. All of the booty that we buy from CostCo (paper goods, snacks) is stacked in a mountainous blob along one wall in our basement, such that there is a 2-foot-wide path to the washing machine…

10. …Which has some pillows and blankets in front of it that I haven’t washed for a year or two.

Wow, I came up with these 10 without even thinking hard. I could go on, but you get the idea.

It’s your turn. Tell a little truth today.

And anyone commenting that they have it all together, or recoiling in self-righteous horror, will be pelted by the alphabet magnets on my fridge that go with a LeapFrog game that disappeared five years ago.

Forthright Clarity

I’m thinking this week about bullies, and dealing with bullies, and how we speak the truth in love, as I prepare for this Sunday’s sermon, which will deal with these matters. (Any ideas? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.)

I am remembering fondly an experience from last summer that didn’t relate to bullying, but did exemplify assertiveness at its best:

We had taken the kids and Mom to a “family show” with our perennial favorite, Billy Jonas. I found out about the concert completely by accident—was planning to send a CD to one of our relatives and discovered that he was going to be in town.

Our family adores Billy Jonas. His music is imaginative, smart, funny, and very catchy. He uses a series of found items as instruments, including a bass drum made from a big blue plastic trash can, a Little Tikes chair, and a skateboard. He has drumsticks attached to his Vans which he uses to hit salad bowls, bells and horns. His CD “What Kind of Cat Are You?” was the only thing that quieted baby Margaret on a road trip to Maine several summers ago, and the effect was instantaneous and almost spooky.

And Billy’s concerts are wondrous. He is like the Pied Piper up there, able to teach words and motions in a way that is not at all tedious. Family concerts are a tough gig—you can tell immediately when you’re losing the audience. Yet he got the crowd back when attention spans waned.

For his final song he brings people up on stage and has them “Bang and Sang” along with him on various instruments. We were sitting on the front row and somehow Caroline got invited up on stage.

She is a reserved child in all but the most comfortable settings, and while she had just finished drama camp the day before and had declared her stage fright “cured,” this was a whole ‘nother deal. So I decided to give her one and only one verbal push: “Go on, sweetie!”

Then I stopped to see what she’d do.

caro_billy.jpgShe went up on stage and Billy gave her the Nimbus 2000—a broom stick with a tambourine on top. He showed her the rhythm, a slightly complicated combination of shaking and tapping, which she did perfectly.

Billy then proceeded to fiddle with some of the other stuff on stage to get ready for the song to begin. Meanwhile I readied the camera. I looked up to see Caroline conferring with this idol of her childhood.

I heard her say, quietly but clearly, “I don’t want to do this after all.”

He offered her another instrument which she declined.

What was he going to do? I wondered.

He turned to the audience and said, “Wow, folks… such forthright clarity. Well, it’s always good to know what you don’t want to do. Everybody give her a round of applause!”

She came and sat back down and nestled into me, her eyes rimmed with that red that I remember so well from childhood, when I felt that I had pushed myself too far and felt embarrassed. Another girl was called forward and completed the task, looking at her parents the whole time with an expression of combined terror and shyness.

It is so tough to know how hard to push a child. We don’t grow unless we stretch ourselves. On the other hand, being able to tell someone—especially an authority figure—”I don’t want to do this” is an incredible thing. I hope she will remember how to do this her whole life.

We greeted Billy after the show and he thanked Caroline for coming on stage and also for saying what she was comfortable with. “That’s a very brave thing to do,” he said.

One of our friends who was at the concert was impressed with Billy’s ability to handle the moment so graciously. And then he said thoughtfully, “Forthright clarity. Yes, that’s Caroline in a nutshell.”

…Have you had a moment of forthright clarity? What images come to mind when you consider what it means to “speak the truth in love”?