E-cigarettes059Recently I have been talking with parents about Parker Palmer’s concept of a “third thing” to be used in discussions. Palmer suggests that in most conversations, there are two things, me and you. According to Palmer, if we’re talking about an important topic, we’d do well to talk about a third thing instead of about you or me. (Think: Mom and Daughter talking about whether or not Daughter’s blouse is too skimpy. If they’re watching a TV show or see a window at the mall, it’s so much easier to discuss those skimpy shirts than the more personal topic of Daughter’s blouse)

In my coaching work, I observe that no topic is touchier than honesty and it’s wicked(er?) twin, deception. Of course, as we give mid-teens and late-teens more and more freedom, honesty becomes ever more important. I am often surprised that kids don’t seem to realize that when one lies, one breaks trust. The lesson beyond that is, how do we restore broken trust?

Wow, wouldn’t it be helpful to have a “third thing” to talk about honesty and deception and broken trust? 

I’m sorry Mr Williams but you’re it. The recent breach of trust which has come to light regarding NBC anchorman, Brian Williams’s claims about his experience in Iraq provide a perfect case study for our teens…and they’re NOT getting in trouble (see how a third thing works?)

In case you’ve been in another part of the world, briefly, the story is that Mr. Williams was embedded with the U.S. military several years ago. En route to a battle, his helicopter was some thirty minutes behind a copter which got shot down. Over the period of the next several interviews, Mr. Williams made the copter-under-fire experience into his own. Check your local paper, news feed, TV, radio for details. But as you do, please notice that rarely is the word “lie” used. Now, years later, several veterans who were present at the event in question have come forward to challenge his statements. He has temporarily stepped down from heading the news staff for NBC. It remains to be seen if he will lose his job.

But here’s the important part for us parents: Williams has provided us an excellent study, a great “third thing” to talk about at home. We can read the story or review the high points of his story with our kids. Several questions you may want to explore are

  • Why might he want to lie about his experience?
  • How did the untruth progress from obfuscation to dishonesty?
  • What is the difference between dishonesty and deception? Is one worse?**
  • Do you think he’ll be able to resume his position, regain people’s trust?
  • How do you think it might have felt to the normal soldiers who knew the truth to come forward against such a notable news person? (a different kind of courage?)
  • Does a person of stature have a different obligation to be truthful than a regular person? A journalist more obligation than a regular person?

And, of course, this is a great time to talk about how dishonesty follows us and sometimes catches up with us years later in very public ways.

I encourage you to take this opportunity to help your kids view a very public lesson about something we all work so hard to teach.

** My dad’s pet peeve was lying but he insisted there was only one thing worse: deception.  In his book, deception WAS lying but depended on the relationship to pull it off. In other words, deception trades on the fact that you know me, you trust me and so give me the benefit of the doubt when I lie. Did Mr. Williams lie or did he lie and deceive? Yet another great lesson….