A Weekly Column

By Joseph Walker



Jonathan is a good Scout.

At least, he's trying to be. He started Cub Scouts when he turned 8, and even though he's still referring to his Pack Master as a Pokemon Master, he's starting to get the hang of it. He's doing his best to do good turns daily, and he's excited about the upcoming Pinewood Derby, in which Cubs and their parents design, build and race model cars (Jon is sure ours is going to establish new land speed records; I will be happy if it makes it all the way down the track without the wheels falling off).

One of the first things Jon was required to do was have a talk with his parents about self- protection. The Boy Scouts of America furnish a pamphlet to help us talk to him about ways to avoid frightening situations and all kinds of abuse. The Scouts have a zero-tolerance policy about such things. So do the Walkers. During the course of our conversation, we started talking about what he should do in case someone older or bigger tries to get him to do something he doesn't want to do.

"If you feel uncomfortable or threatened by someone in any way, you have our permission to do whatever you have to do to get away from them," I explained. "Yell, hit, scream, run . . . "

"Be rude?" Jon asked, anxiously. He knows that "rude" doesn't play well at our house, and he needed to make sure such a breach of family protocol would be acceptable in times of crisis.

"That's right," I assured him. "If you're in a situation where someone even an adult-is threatening you or frightening you, you have our permission to be rude to them."

"Yes!" said Jon excitedly, clenching a fist in front of him (note to self: maybe we need to find another way to address the rudeness issue; we're obviously making it sound way too fun).

"Oh, and one other thing," Jon's sister, Elizabeth, chimed in. "If someone tries to get you to go in their car with them, just tell them you have to go someplace else, and get out of there."

Jon considered that advice for a moment, then asked: "What if I don't have someplace to go?"

"Tell them that you do anyway," Elizabeth said.

"But that would be lying," Jon said, very seriously.

Elizabeth gave him that "well, duh!" look for which big sisters are famous, and then looked at me. Unfortunately, I wasn't sure of what to say either. You see, Jon doesn't lie. It isn't that he is a perfect child. He has issues. But he doesn't lie, and I wouldn't want that to change. I just want him to be safe, and if that means lying in order to get out of danger, then yes, I want him to lie. But I don't want him to be a liar-you know what I mean? So I proceeded carefully.

"In this case," I said, "it's OK to lie. That doesn't mean that lying is OK. But if you are in danger, it's OK to lie. You have my permission to lie to get away from danger. OK?"

Jon tried to comprehend it. He really did. You could see the wheels in his brain whirring away, trying to process the concept of acceptable lying. He scrunched up his face, as if he were actually in pain. Finally he relaxed and shrugged.

"I'm not sure I could do that," he said. "I don't know how to lie."

And somehow, I can't bring myself to teach him. Which is why I'm a little worried about Jon's safety, but I'm not worried about his future. At a time when situational ethics are the order of the day, there will always be a place of honor for a person who doesn't know how to lie.

And who is a good Scout.

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--- © Joseph Walker


Look for Joe's book, "How Can You Mend a Broken Spleen? Home Remedies for an Ailing World." It is available on-line through and