When I was a child, David O. McKay was president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Mormon church, my church. He had a kindly face and a mane of white hair and was a benevolent presence in my life. I remember a poem he used to quote--well, I don't really remember the whole poem, but I can quote a couple lines:
You ought to be true for the sake of those
Who think you are true
Or words to that effect.
I thought of this poem often as I learned the job of parenting. I found one of the easiest ways to institute some good routine in the home was to teach the children that this was the right thing to do. For instance, every Monday evening, Mormon households around the world have what is called Family Home Evening. It's a wonderfu concept. The family meets to play games or have family council or listen to a lesson on honesty or sharing or some other character-building principle.
A great concept--in theory, but hard to carry out week after week. After week. After week. There were lots of Mondays that I felt I just couldn't do Family Home Evening. Life was complicated and Monday was here too soon, and just this once, what would it hurt if we didn't have Family Home Evening?
Whenever I wavered, the kids would set me straight right away. They felt Family Home Evening was important. It was where we were supposed to be on Monday evening. Because I had taught them this and they believed me, I'd sigh and carry on, being true because they thought I was true.
Literature is replete with stories of people who have been redeemed by the process of someone believing they were better than they were, though I can't think of a one right now. Let's see...what about "On the Waterfront"? Marlon Brando's character did the right thing because the people he looked up to believed he would, or at least could.
And on the opposite side of the coin, I don't think there's anything so devistating as to find that someone you look up to talks one way but lives another. Think of a Sunday school teacher caught in an adultrous relationship or a coach arrested for driving under the influence. The damage these acts do ripples out far beyond the immediate family. It happened to me once or twice as a young person, and though I've grown more realistic as I've matured, it still hurts when someone I believe in turns out to be false in ways I thought they were true.
What about it? Can any of you jog my memory about another story in literature where someone is redeemed because someone else believed in his better self?
Or, better yet, does anyone remember David O. McKay's poem. Can you quote it and tell us who wrote it?
This is a post script: One of my readers, Shea, posted the poem in the comments section. It's an Edgar A. Guest poem, and it goes like this:
You ought to be true for the sake of the folks who think you are true.
You never should stoop to a deed that your folks think you would not do.
If you are false to yourself, be the blemish but small, you have injured your folks;
You have been false to them all.
I might have got the line length wrong, but the words are as I remembered them.
Thank, you, Shea.
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