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Alice Collins column: Honesty is an important lesson to pass on

Do you always speak the truth? Do you sometimes feel you need to tell a "little white lie?"

I don't know exactly where that term came from, but we learn early what it means. You don't tell some lady with a fancy new dress that it is the wrong color for her or, perish forbid, that it makes her look fat. It seems like an OK "sin" to assure someone who is excited about something new that it was a great choice, even if you wouldn't pick it out for yourself in a million years,

It is hard to be sure that you are teaching your kids to be truthful when they may hear you bend the truth in order to be kind. Yet, honesty is a vital lesson to pass on to the next generation. I'm afraid the current generation may not be doing a good enough job of that. It is not always an easy lesson to get across, but I had an interesting chance to emphasize this value for my daughter.

Five year olds are skilled at avoiding the truth when they realize that the result of honesty could be a punishment. I sometimes wondered if it was best to give reduced punishment as a reward for honesty. I took a chance on teaching my daughter a lesson when she was 5 by counting on her older brother's tendency to be honest in all situations.

When we lived in Rochester, Minn., we spent a year at the University of Illinois while my husband completed an advanced degree. We rented a house from an Illinois faculty member who was out of town for a year. As you can imagine, we were understandably very concerned to take good care of the house, and I was really upset when I saw my daughter's name on our bedroom wall.

Our 5-year-old girl wailed that she had not done it, her brother had. I said that we would ask him about it, and she said, "He'll lie!" I assured her that he would not. Actually, I knew she had not done it as the writing was more mature than hers, but I was counting on my totally honest son to prove a point.

We went to the living room where he was on the couch watching TV. When I asked if he had written on the wall, he dropped his head and said, "Yeah."

She was astonished and I was proud; however, I did provide him with the cloths, water and soap and told him to clean it up. But I wasn't nearly as angry as I would have been if he had tried to lie his way out of it, and it was a wonderful lesson for his little sister that I suspect she never forgot. Did she learn something? Soon after, when I found a piece of unwanted toast on the floor behind the kitchen door, she 'fessed up right away!