Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Secrets and Lies

I have just finished a book called " The Memory Keeper's Daughter" by Kim Edwards
This book is about our vain efforts to control our lives or the lives of others with lies and secrets. In 1984 during a snowstorm a doctor delivers his own twins with the help of his office nurse. One child, a boy, is born perfectly healthy and normal. The other twin, a girl, is born with down syndrome. In that era people were very much ignorant of the abilities and delight that people with down syndrome bring to the lives of their families. Instead many families hid these children in institutions never even telling other family members about them. In this case the doctor believing that most down syndrome children die at an early age from heart disease and remembering the pain and loss he had experienced in his early years with the loss of his sister who also had a heart condition, decides to spare the woman he loves all that pain. While his wife is still unconscious he gives his daughter to his office nurse and tells her to take the child to a home in the country that takes in children with downs syndrome. He then told his wife the lie and carried the secret inside himself for the rest of his life.
The secret took on a life of it's own sowing seeds of distrust and building walls around those who knowingly or unknowingly were involved. Eventually the secret destroyed what the man had so desperately sought to protect. His life and the lives of those around him were for ever altered and changed. Although he told the lie and kept the secret with the intention of keeping his wife from the pain of losing a child he created for her a very different kind of pain. He was a kind and giving doctor , but after his death he was remembered not for these good things, but for the lie he had told that proved destructive to all around him.
While I found the book slow to read and laborious at times it had an impact on me because in my own life I am dealing with a similar situation and while some people did things with the best of intentions it has brought nothing but despair to the lives of those involved. It manages to kill friendships and destroy trust.
The book reminds me of an essay I wrote for a course I was taking many years ago. We were asked to write about what we thought the most valuable personal quality anyone could develop. I wrote about integrity. The following is my essay:
The most valuable personal quality anyone can develop in life is integrity. “Integrity”, described by the Oxford dictionary as “moral excellence” is not just about doing the right thing, but in the words of Oprah Winfrey “Real integrity is doing the right thing knowing that nobody is going to know whether you did or not”. Every day all of us are faced with making numerous decisions. However, decisions such as where to live, what career to pursue or what investments to make while important to your life’s stability are not decisions that test our morals. It is the decisions we make that probe our conscience that determine our moral fortitude. Things such as whether or not to cheat on our income tax, lie to our boss or not give back that extra change that the teenage clerk in the 7-11 inadvertently gave to you. Science has shown that each of us is born with some genetic character traits such as being shy or being extroverted. Even our I.Q. and sense of humor is determined in part by our genes. Integrity, however, is not something we are born with. Integrity is a learned behavior. If we are lucky we will be born into a family that can help us learn to live lives of integrity. Not only will they demonstrate integrity by the way they live their own lives, but they will nurture and discipline us with love in such a way that we understand what integrity is all about. They will teach us things such as why cheating on exams and assignment is only cheating yourself and how lying, even white lies, always catch up to us and can destroy our self confidence and all our relationships. Families with a strong sense of integrity allow us to learn the importance of listening to our conscience. If we have the misfortune to be born into a situation where integrity is not taught or given a high priority we can still learn to live with integrity. Living a life of moral excellence is a choice. Integrity allows us to live full happy lives. If we make it a practice to always choose the honest and right thing to do when making tough decisions then we will never have to worry about the outcome of those decisions. After all, we are only human and we all make mistakes. However, if we have applied high moral principles to the decisions we make we will never have to worry about our reputation and our conscience will never keep us awake at night.

1 comment:

  1. I recently read this book, too. I really enjoyed it. I enjoyed reading your essay, too!