A few months ago, I had the very unfortunate experience of brushing my teeth with diaper cream. In my defense, the backs of tubes are almost identical. It wasn’t until I was already scrubbing my teeth with the brush that I realized something was wrong. It took a lot of gagging and rinsing and gargling – and a lasting greasy feeling on my teeth – to learn that lesson. It looked like toothpaste, but inside, it wasn’t.
I’ve been thinking today about integrity. I’m wondering how to teach my son and daughter to find people of integrity – not people that give the appearance of greatness, but people that possess internal greatness.
My first boyfriend was very good at presenting himself well. He said the things I wanted to hear. He knew I liked poetry, so he wrote me poems. He knew I didn’t like smoking, so he didn’t smoke. He portrayed himself as honest and trustworthy and intelligent. He was very good at appearances – especially to someone who was relatively naïve.
The problem was that his insides didn’t match his outsides. Sometimes his clothes and breath smelled like cigarette smoke. The poetry he’d written for me was actually plagiarized from Edwin Markham, the former poet laureate of Oregon. The girl that he hated who spread crazy rumors about the two of them – he didn’t hate her, and the rumors weren’t so crazy. When it came to internal greatness, he was about as pleasant as a mouthful of Desitin.
Truthfully, I harbor no ill will toward him. We were very young and immature, and I assume we both have grown considerably since that time. I learned a painful lesson in that relationship, but an important one. The people I dated after him may not have been the best matches for me, but all of them are people of integrity, and my husband is a man of inner greatness.
I know my children will have their own unpleasant opportunities for growth, from toothbrush mishaps to brokenhearted tears. I realize I can’t shelter them. But I want to prepare them as much as possible. I want them to be wise but not overly skeptical, innocent but not naïve. I want them to not just seek people of integrity, but to be people of integrity.
(And also, I want them to double-check the fronts of their toothpaste tubes.)