Lessons from the Back Stairs

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We were sitting on the back steps of our house in San Francisco, my dad and I, somewhere between the first and
second floors. I could see the grass below. The stairs were wooden, the railing was thin and would have invited
number of dangerous stunts if it hadn’t been such a splinter factory. I knew splinters caused more pain than their size deserved.
I was crying because I was getting a lecture on the dangers of lying. I’d told a lie in school – kindergarten, actually – and I’d been caught out. I’d gotten a lecture from the kindergarten teacher, from my mother, and finally, this one on the back steps by my father. He was outlining the moral pitfalls of telling a lie, the emotional damage done to both the lie recipient and the lie teller.
None of this is what convinced me that lying was a bad idea. The argument that was the most persuasive, the one that stuck, was the unspoken lesson: If you lied and got caught, it was utterly and completely humiliating. It exposed neediness, it exposed weakness, and worse, it lost the liar the very admiration and trust of the people she most wanted to impress.
This was a lesson that seeped in and chilled me as completely as the unrelenting fog of that afternoon. A recent Scientific American article, Childhood Memories Serve as a Moral Compass, outlines how childhood reminiscences can be used to improve our behavior by reminding us of a time of moral purity. Maybe so.
My own resolve to never lie and any behavioral studies notwithstanding, I can’t promise I won’t fib from time to time here, purely in the interests of padding a story, protecting the innocent (mainly myself), or getting a laugh. I won’t promise to always use real names when fake ones will do, and so on.
Be warned. You are in the presence of a fibber. Not a liar – that way holds too many potential and damaging splinters. I don’t remember the lie I told in kindergarten, but I remember the lesson.

Image credit: <a href='http://fr.123rf.com/photo_4560993_an-old-wooden-house-entry-ladder.html'>TheoSid / 123RF Banque d'images</a>

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