A few months ago I booked flights to North Carolina for Christmas for me and my son — not always easy, since it involves coordinating diverse travel awards, schedules and airports. This year it was even more complex since he is flying out alone and we’re coming home together. It all got figured out and I was set up to fly out to Raleigh a few days after him, spend time with his other family in the mountains and the Outer Banks, then return together.
All fine – until I realized that my initial destination is just 90 minutes from Charlotte, meaning my flight into Raleigh would add about 6 hours (assuming no delays), with a layover, second flight and two extra hours of driving. All on Christmas Eve day! My planned solution was to skip out on my connection in Charlotte, rent a car and drive.
All fine – until I told a friend about my brilliant scheme and she informed me that airlines automatically cancel your return flight if you miss a connection. What’s up with that?
Still fine, just a little finagling required. Friends suggested I go with my “missed connection” plan, play ignorant, and call the airline from my rental car to tell them I still wanted my return flight. Surely that would work, right? One suggestion was to go to the airline counter right after the “missed” plane took off so I could explain in person, shed a few tears, play the mom-wants-to-be-with-her-son-on-Christmas card, and probably get my way.
Is this a case where honesty is the best policy? Where I’d better be good for goodness’ sake? Or is it just a matter of the ends justifying the means? With only a week to spend with my son and his other family, and a whole lot of travelling during that week, it makes sense to want to cut out six hours spent in planes and airports and cars, right? Plus, the FAA and Airport Security and cheap airlines have joined forces to perfect the art of frustration when it comes to air travel these days, right? So what’s the harm in running a little scam to improve the quality of my travel life?
Jeff Goldblum was right when he said that rationalizations are more important than sex. (“Did you ever go a week without a juicy rationalization?” ~ The Big Chill).
Most religions and spiritual practices agree that honesty is an essential value to cultivate. The Buddha said that “honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom”. The Bible commands that “you shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” and that “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. The Koran says to “be with those who are true in word and deeds. The Torah tells you to “distance yourself from words of falsehood”. Even the folks in 12-step groups agree that addicts who do not recover are “people who cannot be honest with themselves”.
There are a lot of ways to live a lie. Staying in a relationship that is supposed to be based on love but is really more a convenience with perks is one. Giving a job you despise (but are too afraid to leave) only half your true effort is another – it’s like quitting without telling your boss you’ve left. And what about the little lies we tell ourselves? “I don’t really care about what they think.” “That extra 20 pounds doesn’t really bother me.” “It’s not a real deadline anyway; I’ll just call in sick.”
When it comes right down to it, most of the lies we tell – whether to ourselves or to others – come from a place of fear. Fear of conflict, of not getting what we want, of losing something we have, of not being able to control the outcome. Convenience plays a big part in dishonesty as well –sometimes it’s just easier to tell a little white lie than it is to tell the truth and face the consequences.
In the end, the anxiety about the planned scam wasn’t worth it to me and I called the airline. After hearing about my situation, the woman at American told me she wasn’t supposed to make a change like that, especially this close to my planned travel dates. I started to launch into my sob story about my kid and his other family and the brief visit and Christmas… then cut myself off and simply offered to do whatever it took to make it right. Silence. Then came the magic words: “Let me see what I can do.” Five minutes later the flight was changed and it didn’t cost me a thing.
Does this make a strong case for honesty as the best policy? I suppose. But it could just as easily have gone another way, with me being an extra couple hundred bucks or many thousand flight miles poorer. Or a flat out refusal to change the ticket and a recorded phone call proving I knew the rules and the airline was justified in canceling my flight home if I tried my little scheme. None of that would have been life-threatening and I would have dealt with it.
As it is, the payoff of handling this directly is that I get to relax now and just look forward to the trip. That’s usually how it is with honesty – the situation, whatever it is, is behind you after you deal with it head-on. Otherwise it’s still in front of you, just waiting patiently, taking up space in your head and your heart until you address it head on. Maybe that’s what they mean about truth setting us free.