Earlier this week in my post Smile! It’s contagious I mentioned the commonly held misconception that adults usually know when children are lying. I say ‘misconception’ because it’s been shown that adults have no idea whether children are lying or not, and it appears that children, also, have no idea if others, even their siblings, are lying.
This inability to distinguish the liar from the truth-teller is portrayed clearly in an incident in the book Ugly, a memoir, by Robert Hoge. We’ll call it The Chocolate Incident.
Robert is the youngest of five siblings. One day the five of them were called to a family meeting in the lounge room. When they were all standing up straight in a line from oldest to youngest Robert knew that something was up. Their mother soon informed them that chocolates had been taken from a box on top of the fridge, and not just a couple that wouldn’t be missed, but more than that.
Both parents were involved in the interrogation. Their mother said, “We’re going to ask who took the chocolates. We’re going to look you in the eye and ask you, and you’d better come clean or there’ll be real trouble.”
Robert explains that in turn she approached each child, starting with the oldest. She stared at each for a few seconds, then asked, “Did you take any chocolates?” In turn each child replied in the negative and, as they did so, turned to look at the next in line.
As the parents moved from child to child Robert, knowing he was innocent, observed the responses of his siblings. Who took the chocolates? The looks of dread, panic and fear that were so obvious on each face convinced him of their guilt. But no, each sibling denied it.
When the fourth child denied taking chocolates and turned to face Robert, he realised that he was the last in line, “there was no one there for me to look at. Not even Sally, our dog. “
He continues, “I started crying before Mum got to me. One by one the others turned to look at me. Dad glared ominously over Mum’s shoulder and I tried to say, “It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me.” But everything was lost to my sobbing and I got the blame. I still don’t know who took those chocolates.”
I wonder if there’ll ever be a confession! Or if the culprit ever felt remorse for Robert, the youngest, having to take the blame.
There is more to Robert than this one incident portrays. His is a remarkable story. I have heard it many times and am yet to tire of hearing it. I first heard him speak at a writers’ seminar, the seminar that was the final impetus to set me on my blogging journey. I heard him speak again at a Writers’ festival at which I purchased his memoir. I have also seen him tell his story on television more than once.
My signed copy from the writers’ festival!
I own three versions of Robert’s memoir: paperback, audiobook and the Kindle version for younger readers. Robert reads the audiobook, which is a special treat. It gives authenticity to the listening experience, particularly since I was already familiar with his voice. It also means when I read his books to myself, that I hear his voice telling me his story. All versions are written in a pleasant, easily readable and conversational tone, as if we are sitting together, chatting over a cup of tea and a Tim Tam.
When I handed my Mum a copy of the book, I wasn’t sure whether she’d enjoy it or not. However, after 70+ years of adult reading (she was 90), she informed me that it was the best book she had ever read.
I’m not sure why this story makes such a strong impression on us. Maybe it’s because we think it could have happened to either of our families. Robert is only two years older than my Robert, and six years younger than Mum’s youngest of ten.
Maybe it’s because the family’s culture, growing up in another Brisbane bay-side suburb just across the bridge, was similar to ours.
Maybe it’s because it’s a story of resilience, of survival against the odds, and of making hard decisions. Maybe it’s a bit of all of these, and more, including the raw honesty with which Robert writes.
There are many opportunities for learning in Robert’s book, many different topics I could choose to write about; so many that I haven’t known where to start. After the previous discussion about lying, this seemed an appropriate introduction.
I haven’t told you much of Robert’s story. It is better to have him tell you himself. He introduces himself in this TED talk.
Links to other interviews, and to connect with Robert online, can be found here
I recommend Robert’s story to you. It is definitely a story worth sharing.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts.