Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 14, 2003
Little lies can chalk up big penalties
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
My friend Mark had wandered through a number of jobs over the years, searching for the career which would bring his life some meaning. He bartended, then did computer technology for a while. He tried his hand at social work. Nothing excited him. Still, he was sure that helping others should be part of his true life choice.
As a young man, Mark liked to party. Sometimes that partying included not only substantial alcohol consumption, but a good bit of marijuana use too. That time came to an end when he was arrested for DUI (driving under the influence).
A night in jail was a real eye opener. It shook Mark and forced him to look at himself. He accepted his punishment, did his community service, and attended mandated meetings of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous.
A few years ago, Mark entered the New York City Police Academy. He was in peak intellectual and physical shape, and was assisted by an enthusiasm for this work which he had discovered nowhere else. Part of the Academy experience involves personal interviews and answering certain questions under oath. Among them: have you ever used illegal drugs? Mark feared that the truth might jeopardize his career, so he told them "no." He felt fairly comfortable with that answer, believing that his bad choices were long since buried.
Mark went on to be one of the top members of his class. In fact, he was just a week short of graduation and what looked to be a deeply promising future. The past, however, has a mysterious was of tripping us up.
Quite by accident, one of the Police Academy counsellors met a friend and, as they talked nonchalantly about the cadets, Mark's name came up. It turned out that the friend knew Mark years before during his DUI probation days. He told the counsellor how happy he was that Mark had moved past his earlier drinking and drugging to become such an outstanding member of the Academy.
The problem with that remark? It contradicted Mark's sworn testimony that he had never taken illegal drugs. In that casual moment of conversation, Mark's police career ended.
Called before a review committee, Mark was told that he would not become a police officer. The committee members explained the reason for his dismissal wasn't because he smoked some pot over five years before. They knew that in youth people make mistakes.
They were, instead, ending his police career because he had lied to them in the original interview. One told him, "Mark, you didn't need to lie to us. We'd have accepted you with those past mistakes. But, son, if you'd lie to us on something that is relatively small, we've got to wonder, can you be trusted in the bigger things?
"Police work is a public trust. There are so very many opportunities to be dishonest. Your honour is everything, but can be easily led astray. There is no more important criteria for a police officer than our sense that he tells the truth. You're not a bad man because you once smoked some dope. But you are a great risk to the police department because you lied about it."
I spoke to Mark recently about that awful day. He has a new career now, and he's also married with young children. Said Mark: "They lie so easily, and find it so tempting to take the wrong road." Having travelled that road, Mark is trying to share the hard lessons he learned about honour, honesty and the importance of good choices with his youngsters.
I smiled when Mark said, "Your man was right you know. The truth does set us free!"
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: email@example.com.)
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.