By Trudy A. Martinez
“Put your right hand on The Holy Bible,” the bailiff says. Then he continues, “Repeat after me: I swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.” In this scenario if a factual statement of things is not made and instead, an untruth (a lie) is communicated, the untruth is referred to as perjury, a voluntary violation of an oath to tell the truth; therefore, it is punishable by the law.
A friend asks, “How do you like my new dress?” She smiles and twirls around, allowing the dress to billow out. Her eyes are beaming with excitement, anticipating an affirmative answer. Before I am able to reply, she adds, “Tell the truth.”
My mind regurgitates:” . . . the truth . . . nothing but the truth.” Then I blurt out, “I don’t like it–the print is too bold–the color doesn’t flatter you skin.”
“How could you! How could you–What did I ever do to you?” She stammers as tears fill her eyes.
“You said to tell the truth. Is it my fault sometimes the truth hurts?” I ask, defending my answer. Under the circumstances, it is evident to me the truth is not what she wants, at least not in the sense I imagine. Instead, the truth is something that is acceptable as true to her.
The concept of truth is difficult to explain and to teach children. Everything around us seems to lie. As a result, our actions speak louder than words.
For instance, when my daughter attempts to teach Chandra, my granddaughter, about traffic signals (they are in the car), every time they come to a light my daughter explains and then reacts. “The red light means stop,” she says to Chandra as her foot presses on the brake to stop the vehicle. “The green light means go,” she says as she removes her foot from the brake and places it on the gas pedal and then presses downward to accelerate the vehicle. Then my daughter explains the yellow light. “The yellow light means slow down – get ready to stop.” she says.
“That’s not true, mommy!” Chandra blurts out quickly. Then she continues, “The yellow light means hurry and go fast!” She looks up at her mommy with her big brown eyes fixed in a stare, confronting her. “You step on the gas when you see the yellow light.” Then she says as she continues to justify herself, “Remember when we are walking across the cross walk, mommy?”
“The green light tells us to go. We went-we start walking.” She smiles and then continues. “Before we get across–the yellow light comes on.” Chandra continues, as a smile forms on her Mommy’s face. You said, “Hurry up–we have to go fast and get to the other side before the red light comes on,” she stammers. “So the truth is, Mommy,” she says as her eyes beam with delight, “the yellow light means hurry up and go fast!”
In an attempt to prepare my two oldest daughters for the world, I tell them to always tell the truth–the whole truth–no matter what; they are warned that if they do not tell the truth–the whole truth, they will be punished.
My youngest daughter is four. Her sisters are eleven and nine. The four-year old is very impressionable and wants to be just like her sisters. She follows them around everywhere. Then one day, she came running into the house, crying: “I got a big ow-w-ie!”
“Oh honey,” I say, “let me kiss it and make it feel better.”
“No,” she says. “I need a big bandage.”
“I’ll get you one.”
“No,” she replies. “I-I–do it.”
“Are you sure you can reach them?”
“Yes,” she answers. “I’m a big girl.”
“Okay, go ahead–if you have any trouble, call me–okay?”
“Okay,” she stammers as she stumbles out of the room, limping and holding her knee.
A short time passes. I hear her coming down the hall. I am in the kitchen, peeling potatoes for dinner. I didn’t bother to turn around. I just ask, “Did you manage okay by yourself?”
She replies, “Yes, Mommy,” as she hurries past me toward the living room where her sisters are sitting on the living room floor playing a game of Monopoly with a couple of boys from the neighborhood.
All of a sudden, screams fill the air.
“Mom!” exclaims one.
“How could you–you little brat!” Says another.
Laughter begins. The laughter nearly drowns out the screaming.
“What is going on in there?” I think as I drop what I am doing and make my way to the living room to find out. The laughter gets louder. The two girls are still screaming.
When I enter the room, the little one is standing with her back to me. Her hands are over her ears; her tiny fingers are spread apart, covering as much of her head as possible. The boys are rolling on the floor, laughing as hard as they can. “What is going on here?” I ask.
“Look at her–just look at her,” the two oldest girls yell in unison.
“I-I–got a big bandage.” The youngest replies softly.
I look. There on her knee, tied in back, is a sanitary napkin, a Kotex to be exact. “Where did she get the idea that this is a big bandage?” I ask.
The two older girls look at each other. Then blurt out, “It was easier to tell her it is a big bandage-then–to explain the truth.”
“Then,” I say, “You got your just reward–leave her alone–she has a big owwie!”
I took the little one’s hand and we left the room as the laughter echoes behind us.
I add a remedy, saying, “The way to avoid embarrassment or disappointment in the future is to tell the truth–the whole truth!”