A few years ago, the Emmy-winning actor William H. Macy was asked for the best piece of advice he was ever given. “Never lie,” he answered. “It’s the cheapest way to go. Lies cost you a lot and they’re never worth what they cost.”
But as the authors of Unacceptable: Privilege, Deceit & the Making of the College Admissions Scandal noted, precisely as Macy was giving this interview, he and his wife Felicity Huffman were helping their daughter unknowingly cheat on her SATs. They were discussing plans for their other daughter to do the same. The worst part? His daughter wanted to go to a theater school that didn’t even need high SAT scores.
It was the cheapest way to go and not remotely worth the cost. His wife would briefly go to jail for her role in it. His daughter was crushed—crushed that her parents didn’t believe in her, crushed at the embarrassment, crushed at having to bear witness to the hypocrisy of her parents who had talked so much about being good people but had willfully done such a bad thing (and were prepared to do it again).
We’ve talked before about how, as parents, we should try to behave in such a way that when our kids are older they’ll be impressed with us. “My father has suffered more than Christ!” Ambrose Bierce’s son remarked when his dad finally spilled some of his secret pain. We can imagine that Macy and Huffman’s daughter felt the exact opposite. She found that her parents were hypocrites. That they were liars. No child deserves that.
And so this is something to think about today before you go out drinking, before you slide into someone’s DMs, before you throw that punch, before you put your name to the signature lines on your tax returns swearing that all the information included is accurate to the best of your knowledge. A little fellow follows you. Your own advice, your own words follow you too.
Don’t betray them. Don’t be a hypocrite.