posted by Joe Anaya on April 8th, 2013

Recently, over a long weekend, we decided to take a trip and had to have our son skip school on Friday. My son’s school has a strict attendance policy; unless he’s sick, it’s a truancy. He’s only in middle school, so we don’t have problems taking him out to see a speaker series with a scientist or to a museum exhibit, and occasionally to get out of town for a trip. But, in order to avoid the hassle of dealing with a truant officer, we just called the school and said, “He’s sick.” My son by nature is a rules-follower, so he was a little shocked by the lie to the office. “Yes, we’re being dishonest. No, you can’t be,” was my response to his disapproving glare. He is a good kid, so we aren’t worried about him starting a life of deceit. But it did get me started on the idea that the things we teach our kids aren’t always accurate. Really, what we should be saying is, “Honesty is OFTEN the best policy.”

Like all parents, I’ve heard myself blurt out the usual platitudes meant to teach my child good behavior or a life lesson in a short pithy form. I remember my dad saying, “If it’s a job worth doing, then it’s a job worth doing right.” But as I’ve worked many jobs and had many projects on my honey-do list, I know the truth is, “If it’s a job worth doing, it’s a job worth doing right. But if it’s a job NOT worth doing and you have to do it anyway, just make it good enough.” That’s a distinction that’s just as valuable as the original saying.

Another one could be, “Cheaters usually prosper, unless they get caught and even then, they usually still prosper.” Just ask Bill Belichick or Wall Street insiders. Both still infuriate me that they got to keep their ill-gotten gains.

“It’s what’s on the inside that counts, unless what’s on the outside is a deal breaker.” Let’s face it, we all picked our spouses and significant others based at least partly on looks, some more than others. Psychology studies have shown that in a taste test, subjects preferred the wine with the fancy label over the wine with the cheap looking label, even though both were actually from the same box of wine. The Japanese have long known that presentation affects the way you think the food tastes. If you have tattoos across your face, you’re going to have a hard time getting a job in a daycare. I could go on and on. What’s on the inside counts, but so does what’s on the outside.

As my child gets older, he’s heard the sayings but has enough experience to know that they don’t’ always work out to be true. If he knows they aren’t true, won’t he just disregard the entire message? So, maybe the thing to do is give him the modified sayings. He’ll at least understand that there are exceptions. Can I tell him, “There are no absolutes, unless they’re double-negative kind of thingys.”?

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