Friday, September 20, 2013

The Big Deal Over A Little Lie

Remember the Department of Homeland Security’s color code to warn Americans of possible terroristic attacks? From a low of green to a high of red, it stayed mostly in the yellow range (significant risk) for years before being discarded as not particularly helpful. But there’s something about using colors to label things that is attractive to humans. Our traffic lights are the number one example of this, and one of the first things we teach to toddlers sitting in the back seat of the car. Red means stop, green means go and yellow means slow down and be careful. The color code gets used across our society, so if you see a red button on a machine you’ve never operated, you know it’s the stop button. Yes, there’s something about using colors to label things. Our grandgirl has a behavior color code in her first-grade classroom. Every day every child starts on green -- in the middle of the chart that has five levels: red, yellow, green, blue and purple. Red (maybe because it’s also a color representative of hell, or maybe because the teacher wants the behavior to stop) is when you have acted in such a way as to get sent to the principal’s office. And purple signifies outstanding behavior. Now we have explained to Kaitlyn, 6, that being good is not something she does. Being good is something she is. All the time. But good behavior is something she does. This is an important distinction that gets lost in the translation. We tell Kaitlyn that when we, her grandparents, or her parents or her teacher ask her to do something and she does it, we and they call that good behavior. In truth, it is good cooperation. Basically, we tell kids they behave when they cooperate with our needs (to get in the car when they would rather run around it…to brush their teeth…to sit quietly at their desks). This does not make them good. This makes them cooperative. They are already good, whether they stay seated at their desks or not. But we, her grandparents (Gma and Gpa), are two voices out of hundreds that she hears, so when her teacher told the class about the behavior color code, Kaitlyn immediately wanted to win the game by getting a purple. Instead, she started out with a yellow the first week, one level below the green, on the day she bopped a kid with her lunch box because he teased her. Nowhere to go but up, right? Right. She did not sink to red, despite the warning note that got sent home in said lunchbox that day. And a few days later, she was awarded a blue, which is better than average but not awesome. Purple is awesome, she told us. Most days, however, she and the rest of her classmates stayed in the green zone. Here is where I sound like a grandparent, so that’s my disclaimer: Kaitlyn is an excellent student. Her preschool and kindergarten teachers loved her to pieces. I have not had the chance yet to get to know her first-grade teacher, but I can’t imagine that she doesn’t love Kaitlyn. Kaitlyn, however, likes to talk. A lot. Enough so that her little sister had to be encouraged to talk. Enough so that previous teachers always mentioned that in the parent-teacher conferences. So I suspect Kaitlyn talks out in class, and that keeps her in the green zone. Yet, she apparently craves the idea of hitting purple. One or two blue days was just not good enough. So yesterday when her Gma and Gpa picked her up from school, she announced, “I got purple today!” I was so tickled for her that I texted the news to her parents. And then we went for ice cream, and I posted a photo on Facebook of her biting her cone, saying the treat was because she was awesome in school. Later we learned she had lied to us. Her day actually had been green, not purple. I reflected on this for a while, because at first, it seemed that the lie was the big deal…but as I sat with it, other things floated to the surface. Yes, she did lie, but why? Was it to hurt people or to keep herself out of trouble? No. She lied because she wanted so much to be purple, which is a good thing: the wanting to be purple. And I lied. I had always intended to take her out for ice cream after school. But after she announced her purple day, I tied it to the treat. I lied because I wanted to recognize her thrilled feelings at being purple. I know that if I want something in my life, I send up a rocket of desire and then imagine that it’s already happened and how good I feel that it has. That’s how the Law of Attraction works. Seems to me Kaitlyn was doing just that…and I can’t be too upset with her. I am still going to have a conversation with Kaitlyn about this, now that her mother has clued me in about what actually happened at school. But the conversation will be different. The big deal will not be the lie. It will be how to deal with really wanting something, and all the good feelings that come with it, and telling the truth around that. The truth is that Kaitlyn is purple all the time, even if her teacher doesn’t notice. The truth is that Kaitlyn needs to tell herself that, and that she doesn’t have to tell us something that did not happen. She doesn’t have to lie to make us feel good about her. More importantly, she doesn’t have to lie to make herself feel good about her. The truth is that when you want something, God (or Source or the Force or the Universe) hears you and it’s on its way. You just have to act like it’s already happening. Even if it feels like a lie. It’s not. So this is what our conversation will encompass: I will remind Kaitlyn of her own purple, I will tell her she doesn’t have to settle for a pretend purple. That is what the big deal is.