When my brother, Lee, and I were children, we sang in the church youth choir in our hometown of Wendell. Choir practice was every Saturday morning and the church was two blocks from our house so my brother and I walked to and from the church for practice.
One Saturday morning, we arrived at church to find a sign on the door: Choir practice was canceled. As were reading that note, two other boys arrived for practice. We quickly learned that the side door to the church where we entered for choir practice was open.
Instead of doing the right thing and returning home, we went inside. We couldn’t find any adults anywhere so we did what boys are prone to do – we ran around in the sanctuary up and down the aisles on either side of the pews, until we were worn out.
When we decided to go home, we realized we didn’t know how long we had been there. So we devised a plan. If we returned home from “practice” early, it would be because our teacher said we sang our scales well. If we were late, it would be because we didn’t sing them well.
That was the line we used when our mother asked us why we were home so early. We didn’t bother to tell her choir practice had been canceled.
Crisis avoided. Or so I thought. Later that afternoon I was in the garden with my mother when Steve Prevatte, the preacher’s son, came into our yard. We lived two doors down from the parsonage. Steve yelled to my brother, who was playing in the yard. “Didja hear that choir practice was canceled?”
My mother stood up over a row of snap beans and asked me, “What did he say?” I never stood up from the row I was weeding and I certainly never looked up at my mother. “I didn’t hear him,” I lied.
But the jig was up. We got caught in our lie – our mother called it lying by omission. She took us back to the church and made us apologize to the only adult we could find – a local missionary stateside from his assignment in Honduras.
We had to go into the sanctuary and straighten all the rugs we had messed up while we were running around.
Even worse, was the rose-bush switching we got that night when Daddy came home. He made me watch him as he cut the switch off the rose bush and used a pocket knife to cut away the thorns. All I could see was the smoke from his Camel short curling up around his angry face.
So, why do I tell that story? It’s Sunshine Week. Government officials – like my brother and I when we were young – don’t want to get called out for their mistakes, so they often simply don’t tell on themselves. And, when they are asked about those mistakes, they obfuscate and avoid admitting errors. It’s human nature. But it’s also wrong.
Government works best when it avoids the mistakes my brother and I made. Running around in the church was bad enough. But our real error was not fessing up to it right away. No one expects perfection from its government. But the ability to be wholly truthful about its actions would go a long way toward restoring trust in government.