When I was in sixth grade, I cheated on a test and it changed my perspective on honesty forever. I’ve been reflecting a lot on truth and how that manifests itself in my life and in our culture since the whole “Lochte-gate” scandal broke.
My sixth grade language arts teacher was a mid-year substitute and she was delightful. Mrs. Parsons was the nicest, kindest and most gentle teacher I had known since arriving at the school a year earlier. It didn’t hurt that we also went to the same church, so she knew my whole family and me. I had an automatic “in.” It’s fair to say she liked me and her opinion of me was important.
On a particular Friday I had a literature test. I remember it was a Friday because it was the end of the week, I was going to the fair right after school AND I was on crossing guard duty with the school safety patrol for the last day that week. Crossing guard was a highly visible and desirable role because the guard gets to direct other students across the carpool line to relative safety on the sidewalk at the other side of the drive. Seemed like a big deal at the time.
Although familiar with the material covered on the test, I wanted to make sure to remember the important facts so I wrote them down. On my hand. With a red felt tip marker. I wasn’t planning on using the answers but they were there in case I needed them. And, I thought, who would find out? I could easily hide the evidence or wash it off.
You can’t handle the truth
Hiding the truth would have been a lot easier if, on that day, I hadn’t been assigned to the crosswalk; if I hadn’t had to hold a stop sign; if Mrs. Parsons hadn’t also been on duty that day. You see where this is going.
When she asked me about the writing on my hand, I had to fess up. It didn’t matter that I may not have used it; I had the cheat sheet right there for her to see. The look of disappointment on her face was devastating. Ugh. It still hurts my heart today.
She gave me an F on the test. It didn’t matter how much I knew. The whole test was destroyed because I cheated. I lost a
good grade, I lost a little bit of her respect, I damaged my reputation AND I lost out on a trip to the State Fair that night. There’s nothing so sad as going to the state fair and holding everyone else’s coats so THEY can ride the rides (gold star on that consequence, Mom).
I was 10. I was a child. Ryan Lochte is a grown man who chose to be dishonest. His little lie turned into a big deal. He damaged his reputation and disappointed two nations. Sponsors have dropped him, not because of his vandalism, but because he lied. I tried to cheat on a test. He tried to cheat the truth. Why? Because I was afraid I might fail and he was likely afraid of the consquences the truth would bring.
But he’s not the only one.
Truth and consequences
We all cheat honesty a little bit every now and then because the results of the truth scare us.
If I say, out loud, that I hate my job, what will happen? If the truth is I really DID deserve that promotion, what kept me from discussing that with someone? When I made that mistake on the project at work, why didn’t I own up to it? What happens if I don’t accept responsibility and someone DOES find out?
When so much of what we do can be hidden or washed away and forgotten, it’s easy to believe that no one will find out. Until they do.
Hide and seek
Whether it’s unpaid vendors, undisclosed emails, vandalized gas stations, a mistake at work or the lies we tell ourselves because we are too afraid to change, at some point someone will find out. That someone may be you finally finding that you can’t ignore your own truth anymore. That someone may be a federal regulator who levees a fine. That someone may be your sixth grade teacher who never quite sees you the same way again.
Mrs. Parsons changed my perspective on how important honesty is. We won’t always be found out, but when we are, the damage can be so much greater than if we had just owned our mistakes in the first place. He’s older than I was for the lesson, but maybe Mr. Lochte’s perspective has changed now, too.