Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A Conversation about Integrity

Integrity is loyalty to one’s convictions and values; it is the policy of acting in accordance with one’s values, of expressing, upholding and translating them into practical reality.

Ayn Rand, "The Ethics of Emergencies," The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 46



The Five Tenets of Taekwondo

1. Courtesy
2. Integrity
3. Perserverance
4. Self-Control
5. Indomitable Spirit


Ryan is learning about Integrity. It's interesting; some virtues, such as Independence, are easy to demonstrate to a child. He goes and does something on his own, thinks something different in the face of adversity, and it's fairly easy for a parent to notice it, to bring it up in a conversation. Same goes for Honesty. We've had several conversations about truth-telling and lying.

But integrity is different--I think because it's mostly internal. In order for a person to understand it, he needs to have an appreciation (on some level) for honesty--the recognition of the primacy of existence--and for independence, too (his mind and life are his own). Is integrity a virtue that would be more easily faked? I don't really know, but I suspect that maybe it is. Because really, only you can know if you have integrity, if you are consciously living according to your values. Others may suspect that you do (or don't) have integrity through outward signs; but only you can really know if you do.

I'm rambling, so I'll just cut to the purpose of this post. Ryan and I had a conversation about integrity the other day.

He had told a fairly small obvious lie to us, and was easily found out. Sigh. The lying really isn't an every day thing--my impression is that it's a "let's just see if I can get away with this" thing. It's a limit that he pushes--not often, but every once in a while, just to piss me off see if I'll notice.

Wanna know what he lied about? Well alright, I'll tell you. You know those little gel window decorations? Those of you with little kids might know what I mean. Those of you without little kids--okay, here's an example. (WARNING: do not ever buy these, but if you do, please click through using that link so I can get a kickback from Amazon, won't you?) They are these little jello-like translucent things that stick to the windows and look at colorful and cute.

I hate them.

My children have discovered that these little things can be ripped up into thousands of teeny tiny pieces. I find them everywhere. I find them on the windows. I find them on the floors. I find them stuck to kitchen appliances. I find them stuck to the toilet paper roll. I find them EVERY. WHERE.

Also, Sean thinks they're tasty! (I know, big shocker that.) I have no idea what they could possibly be made out of, but I suspect that it ain't exactly food.

Hmmm....I'm rambling again. Back to the point.

The other lovely thing my kids have discovered is that after you tear these things up into thousands of bits, you can throw them up up UP! And they will stick to any surface. Like the ceiling. Or the wall above the basement door. Or the light fixtures. Neat, huh?

So, as you might imagine, we've asked the kids to stop. Stop tearing them up. Stop leaving them on the floor. Stop sticking them to the ceiling. And, as you can obviously tell by the quality and quantity of this rant, they have not stopped. :o)

FULL DISCLOSURE: Brendan and I do NOT buy these! (Because that would be silly, to buy them for the kids when I hate them--the gel things, not the kids--so much!) They always come as gifts from well-meaning friends and relatives. I try to inspect any and all packages and throw these things away before The People can find them--but sometimes I FAIL.

So as you might already have guessed, if you've withstood the power of my ranting this far, Ryan lied to us about throwing little bits o'gel onto the ceiling. I used my Mommy Jedi Mind Trick to get him to admit the truth. It wasn't even hard because he is a really bad liar (yay, shhh...don't tell him that).

Brendan wasn't around though, and I knew that he'd be really annoyed, particularly since he is the one who has to get the crap off of the ceiling, and even more particularly since he specifically done told Ryan never ever to do this again just a couple of weeks ago. We both (kind of) believed that Ryan had finally gotten the message . . . sigh. Rookie Mistake. That's our fault, partly because as Ryan is the oldest, we are perpetual Rookie Parents. :/ And sometimes, we're not all that bright.

I told Ryan that he'd have to tell Brendan about the gel on the ceiling. He got really upset and didn't want to admit the truth to Brendan, knowing that Brendan would be irritated. At that moment, Brendan got home and noticed something was transpiring between Ryan and me, but wisely didn't say anything.

Ryan kept pleading with me to tell Brendan about what he'd done, but I refused. I told him that this was his responsibility, that I understood that he was nervous about it, that he didn't want to do it. I reassured him that he and Brendan could solve this problem. I listened and empathized. I offered to hold his hand to support him while he told Brendan about it. But I steadfastly refused to agree to utter the words.

Now, sometimes I will help him apologize to Morgan and help him get the words out. But this was not one of those times. I knew Brendan (who suspected something was up) would not freak out and would react appropriately. Sometimes, when a child apologizes or admits something to another child, well . . . the other child can't necessarily be counted on for a rational reaction. But I knew Brendan could, so I wanted to give Ryan every chance to say the words himself and experience whatever it was Brendan had to say. With my support, yes.

Brendan came over and asked him "Is there something you want to tell me?"

Ryan hemmed and hawed and squirmed and teared up (I was practically tearing up myself, from sympathy), and just as I was ready to cave and say the words for him, he came through with "Dad, I threw the gel things on the ceiling. And I'm sorry."

I was very proud of him. They talked about what they could do about this problem, how to clean it up. And it was over.

Later, on the way to taekwondo, I mentioned to Ryan that he had shown some real integrity by telling Brendan what had happened. And even though he has learned that word for taekwondo class (he needed to know the Five Tenets to earn his yellow belt), he really didn't understand what it meant.

I told him that integrity was doing the right thing because you KNOW it's the right thing. And that even though he didn't want to admit what he'd done and it was hard to do so, he knew it was the right thing to do--and he did it. (Yes, I pushed him a bit, by refusing to say the words for him. But sometimes he needs me to do those kinds of things for him--it has been this way since he was a toddler. I wasn't trying to be mean, or to punish him--I was giving him a decent chance to do the right thing.)

He didn't say much after that, but I could tell the wheels were turning. He's thinking this experience over. Will he rip up the window gels and toss them on the ceiling the next time he gets his hot little hands on them (aka Cold Day in Hell)? Maybe.

But maybe, just maybe, he'll admit what he did a little more readily. We'll see. At any rate, I think this experience was a good way to explain the idea of integrity to him.

3 comments:

Rosalie said...

Hah! I know the gels themselves weren't the point (good post, by the way), but I completely empathize with your plight there. I never buy these, but other well-intentioned family members do, and my kids do just what you described: rip them into many, many pieces and stick them everywhere!!!

-Rosalie

susan dawn wake said...

Okay, so I'll be crossing the gell things off my list gift list to friends with children. I don't happen to have children myself, but I do teach young adults (college age) and I am amazed at how much of what you say about your parenting is applicable (with some alterations) to my teaching. So, I'll take this opportunity to thank you for producing your site: I get great (and sometimes unexpected) value from your efforts!

Rational Education said...

Hmmm...your post has got me thinking. Especially the concrete contexts in which to introduce the concept of integrity to a child.

I would love to read follow-up posts from you on the topic of integrity and how to concretize the abstraction to facilitate a child's understanding of the concept.

After reading your post, I sure will be spending a lot of time thinking the issue!
Jasmine