COMMENTARY 774.5: Justin’s Introduction to Candor

When my son Justin was in high school, I went to an open house to meet his teachers. I was taken aback when one teacher casually mentioned that she had disciplined my son for cheating on a homework assignment.

I asked my son why he hadn’t told me about this incident. “You didn’t ask,” he said. To say the least, I was disappointed by his reaction. Surely he knew that in relationships of trust, candor – volunteering information you know the other person thinks important – is part of honesty. He said he didn’t. In fact, he was adamant that as long as he had not done anything to affirmatively deceive me, he was being trustworthy.

Not so. Trustworthiness involves a good deal more than not lying. Trusting relationships create high mutual expectations, not only of truthfulness but also of frankness and openness about all-important information.

So parents owe candor to their kids on matters that affect their lives, like plans to move, divorce, or get re-married. And kids owe parents candor on matters concerning their safety and education.

So my son was grounded. The next day, he came home beaming with self-satisfaction. “My teacher said that if she knew you were going to treat it so seriously, she wouldn’t have told you.” Obviously the teacher didn’t understand or care about her duty of candor to parents. And she sure didn’t grasp the idea of supporting parental efforts to build character.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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Comments 2

  1. Candor in a relationship – any relationship – is akin to committing a sin of omission vs. sin of commission. It’s not only what you do but also what you fail to do that matters. My father, in doling out punishments to my sisters and I, would always take time to ask if we understood what we had done wrong and make sure we knew exactly what it is we were being punished for. I have adopted that principle in my own parenting. I suspect your son was fully aware of why you took the action you did, even if he pretended not to. He obviously did not convey to the teacher that he was not grounded for cheating but for his sin of omission, his failure to keep you informed.

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