Honesty is supposed to be a foundational value that everyone endorses as important in their lives. Unfortunately, we are surrounded by liars, people who manipulate and misrepresent the truth. They are doctors, lawyers, clergy, teachers and ordinary people on the street.
Too many people define honesty conditionally and situationally. True honesty should have no conditions. Being truthful should be pure, without layers and attachments.
We say that we value honesty and that it is important to practice what we preach. If some people are too honest, they are dismissed because their honesty makes others uncomfortable.
Students who are truthful about everything are often dismissed by their peers as being rats! Being a rat is a terrible stigma to be assigned when you are an adolescent. It puts a teenager in a catch twenty-two situation.
CJ was nineteen. At fourteen, he started to smoke and sell weed. His closest friends knew of his behavior. CJ swore them to secrecy and said if they told his parents, he would consider them rats. He would see to it that they would be ostracized and seen by their mutual friends as social outcasts.
Two of CJ s closest friends kept the secret. He continued to use and get high in the shadows, basically because he was a good guy. He kept his drug abuse from his parents and teachers. Everyone saw him as a great human being.
As he grew, he became more and more moody, but always kept everything in check. He very effectively masked his addictive behaviors.
He went to school every day, played a sport, held a job and made the Dean s list. On the surface, he was a typical, all-American boy!
By the time he was a senior in high school, he had graduated from smoking pot to using cocaine and hard-core prescription pills, but always under the radar of his parents and teachers.
During his senior year, he got a little sloppy. He came home drunk a few times and drove his car at night under the influence. He never got caught by his parents or the police. However, his friends knew he was out of control.
They were becoming increasingly frustrated and worried about CJ. They saw a negative progression taking hold of his life. However, he was still able to fool all the significant adults in his life.
After an episode of reckless behavior during the summer, CJ s best friend confronted him. He threatened to expose CJ s reckless lifestyle and tell his parents everything. That confrontation strained the relationship tremendously. CJ began to distance himself from his best friend.
His friend was not sure what to do. Should he tell and run the risk of destroying this valued relationship, or should he say nothing? The pressure was becoming unbearable. Each time CJ s friend felt compelled to say something, he felt like such a rat and would talk himself out of any conversation with CJ s parents. He could not deal with the social stigma that he felt would be assigned if he told. It was a very painful dilemma to be trapped in.
CJ continued to abuse a wide range of illegal substances and live under the radar until just a few weeks ago. He was out with friends, drinking and snorting heroin, when he passed out at a party. His friends rushed him to a nearby hospital. When they arrived, he barely had a pulse.
The hospital staff stabilized him. After a few days in intensive care, he was released. CJ lied to his parents and told them it was the first time and an isolated incident of recklessness. He swore to his mother and father that he was not a drinker or drug abuser. His parents believed him. When his friends heard that, they were furious, but they kept silent.
A few weeks passed and CJ was again acting recklessly. This time he was out with the same friends. He was snorting heroin again, but this time he did not pass out. He had a verbal altercation with his friends, stormed out, drove home, but he never made it home. He was driving at an excessive speed, did not navigate a curve in the road and slammed into a tree. He died instantly at the scene.
A group of his friends went with the police to his parents home to tell them what happened. Needless to say, CJ s parents were devastated. After everyone left, CJ s best friend stayed behind. He felt compelled to tell CJ s parents the whole story. With a quivering voice, he told CJ s parents that CJ had been abusing a wide range of drugs for an extended period of time. His parents were in shock. They were numb as the facts settled in. They became distraught as they realized that CJ s closest friends had known about his destructive behavior for a long time and had kept silent!
Their silence only added salt to their painful wounds, especially when they had first confronted them and they had denied knowing anything. The boys could not live with their dishonesty and finally told CJ s parents everything.
His parents asked why the code of silence! His friends said they thought saying anything about CJ s behavior behind his back would be ratting out.
The premature death of any young person is profoundly tragic, especially if it can be prevented. Unfortunately, we live in a culture that perpetuates very twisted attitudes about honesty and integrity. The silence that CJ s closest friends maintained indirectly contributed to his death. His life could possibly have been spared, had his friends been willing early on to come forward with the truth.
Unfortunately, they learned very early on that telling on a friend is ratting out and being terribly disloyal. Due to that distorted understanding of honesty, a family is shattered forever and two good friends will have to live with the death of their best friend on their conscience.
How many of us reinforce this perverse notion of ratting out by keeping silent about reckless and negative behavior, whether is has to do with issues of abuse, drugs and alcohol, cheating in a relationship or stealing? Too many times, we justify keeping silent in the name of friendship and lives are destroyed forever.
Confronting reckless, out of control behavior is not ratting out, it is responsible friendship. Yes, sometimes it hurts, but if it saves someone s life, it s worth it.