I just returned from a shopping trip where I handed the clerk $20. I donated the coins change, but as I started out of the store, I realized I held a $20 bill in my hand.
I returned to the clerk serving the customer after me and said, “You gave me a $20 bill.” She looked confused, and then embarrassed. “I should have given you five.” She exchanged it and then said, “Thank you for being honest.”
It was my turn to feel embarrassed. She’d given me too much change. It wasn’t quite an unusual occurrence over my decades of shopping. But it got me thinking. I wondered why anyone should be thanked just for being honest? Shouldn’t honesty be the norm, the line below which ought to have repercussions and shame, the line above which ought to have respect and thanks?
I might have to wait another decade for the chance to “be honest” with another clerk, but as a writer, I can have my characters be honest – as the norm!
I see my books like society’s teeth braces, ever so slowly, over time, straightening out the line, the line of what should be normal. My characters go through difficult times and sometimes create trouble for themselves, but in the end, my good characters are better than the norm of good. (And my bad guys below that line, the farther down, the more interesting on my poor main characters.)
I know from my thousands of folk tales that other cultures honor and respect different virtues, like lies and trickery. In my fantasy or historical fiction worlds, goodness is expected. It’s the norm. Even so, there are some characters who prefer the lies and trickery, feeling that is the norm. For if my main characters didn’t have something to overcome, it would make for some awfully dull reading.
As far as the real world goes, all of us may make mistakes, like today’s clerk, but being honest is, and should be, the norm.
Thank you for listening/reading.