Developing Bad Habits
When the evil king, Pharaoh, wanted to make the Jewish people into his slaves, he didn't just do it all at once. He was sneaky. At first, he just invited them to come and help him out with a small, temporary work project. Then little by little he made them do more and more work, until they were trapped into backbreaking slavery. Our sages teach that this is the same way people become enslaved to destructive, bad habits. At first they convince themselves to engage in a small, one-time improper behavior, which can soon spin out of control. The Torah is teaching us to catch ourselves from developing bad habits, before they catch us.
In our story a girl learns how easy it is to become caught up in a destructive habit.
I just don't know how it could have happened. Me, Mandy Walters, in trouble, and almost kicked out of school!
Thinking back on it, I realize that my life took a turn for the worse when I told Anne that the seat next to me in the cafeteria was taken, when it really wasn't. I had just sat down to lunch, and I really didn't feel like talking to anybody. Then Anne comes running over to sit next to me.
Now I knew that Anne always has a lot to talk about, and as I said, I just wasn't in the mood for company. So when she asked me if the seat next to me was free, I was about to apologize and explain that I needed a bit of privacy, but instead something inside of me convinced me that it would be easier just to lie, and tell her the seat was taken.
She just said, "Okay," and walked away. I was very surprised at myself for lying. It really wasn't like me not to tell the truth, and I felt very bad afterwards. I even almost went up to her to tell her to come back. But then again, I had to admit to myself that lying to her seemed to solve the problem for me pretty fast. So I reassured myself that it was only a harmless white lie, and just a one-time thing. I was certain that I wasn't going to lie ever again.
But the next day in algebra class, Mrs. Travis, the teacher, went up and down the aisles to collect the homework and I realized that I had forgotten to do it. I didn't know what to do. I was ready to just tell her the truth. I knew she would be disappointed.
Suddenly I remembered how smoothly it went the day before with Anne, when I stretched the truth, and next thing I knew I was telling the teacher that I had been very sick last night. I even coughed a couple of times to prove it.
Mrs. Travis gave me a sympathetic look, and moved on. I was off the hook - but I had lied again. And even though I felt bad about it, I didn't feel as bad as I had the day before.
From there things just kept getting more and more out of hand. I started lying to my teachers, my friends, and even to my parents, whenever it was convenient. After a while it didn't bother me a bit. In fact, sometimes I couldn't even remember what was a lie and what was the truth.
I had really started to become a slave to my lying habit, and didn't even know it. Well, the day came when this new 'habit' of mine really went off the deep end, and that's what got me into serious trouble.
Our class had gone on our annual field trip to the giant Seven Seas Aquarium. We had a great time, and after a couple of hours it was time to go. The trip supervisors took a count of us all to make sure everyone had made it back to the bus, and we came up one kid short. Someone was missing.
The supervisors, in a panic, asked if anyone had seen her, or knew why she wasn't there. I don't know why, but I just told them that I had seen her getting onto the other bus, even though I hadn't. I think I lied just because I had become so used to it, and I wanted to get going.
Well, our bus left, and I was happy to be on the road. I was so busy chatting with friends, I didn't notice Mr. Arthur, the trip supervisor coming my way.
"Excuse me," he said, getting my attention. He wasn't smiling. "You told me a few minutes ago that you saw the missing girl get on another bus. Are you sure that it was her that you saw?" he asked.
His question made me nervous, but I was already in the lie, so I kept it up.
"Absolutely, 100%." I bluffed, hoping that would be the end of it.
But it wasn't. "Well, young lady, we just got a call from aquarium security personnel. They just found the girl, wandering lost in the aquarium parking lot. She was cold, and crying and it's only good fortune that she didn't get hurt."
My heart sunk. My lie had put one of my classmates into real danger! I bowed my head in total shame as Mr. Arthur stood over me, with a stern look on his face. Then and there I realized that my lying had to stop, once and for all.
I looked up at him, and in a small voice, said. "I ... I admit it. I didn't really see the girl get on the bus. I'm very sorry." That's when I started to cry. I was crying about all the lies I had told.
When we got back to school, I had to see the principal. She warned me not to lie ever again. I already learned my lesson: white lies can turn dark very fast. Take it from me: don't ever lie. It's not right, and it's so easy to become a slave to a bad habit once you get started.
Q. How did Mandy feel when she first started her lying habit?
A. She felt like it was ok, since she only told a small lie, and didn't plan to do it again.
Q. Did she feel differently after she got caught lying on the bus?
A. Yes, she saw how a little bad habit turned into something big and ugly. She stopped lying from then on.
Q. How do you think Mandy changed from being someone who never lied into someone who frequently told lies, even dangerous ones?
A. It happened little by little. Once she took the first step in the wrong direction, she kept getting more and more sucked in, until it became like her second nature. This is often the way that people fall into destructive habits. The best way to avoid this is not to even try something once that feels wrong. Even if it doesn't seem like a big deal at the time, it is very likely that it will grow into one.
Q. What got Mandy to finally stop?
A. She was confronted with a situation that forced her to see the consequences of her actions and to clearly see how far she had sunk with her terrible habit. But it's much more pleasant to take stock of ourselves, and try to eliminate bad habits at an earlier stage, before they get out of control.
Ages 10 and Up
Q. Our sages teach that a positive Mitzvah causes another Mitzvah, and a negative act (aveira) causes another one. How do you understand this, and what is its relevance to our story?
A. We chart out the spiritual course of our lives via our free will choices. Once we make a decision to behave in a positive, or negative way, it becomes easier to choose the same the next time, and harder to choose the opposite. Mandy got caught in this downward spiral of negativity, and found herself acting in a way she would have never at first believed she ever would.
Q. How can a person recover from destructive, addictive behavior?
A. Recovery from any addiction, whether it's a behavior pattern or anything else, oftentimes follows a pattern. Addiction stems from first deciding to give in to what seems to be a minor temptation, being unaware as the behavior progresses, and finally realizing through a crisis, or hitting bottom, that the behavior has grown out of control and enslaved us. The first step to pulling out of it is to realize that we are trapped in a behavior we want to change, and feel powerless to do anything about, and then sincerely asking God to help us find a way out of it. Doing this opens up the door to freedom from slavery.
Q. What are some bad habits people at school sometimes fall into that you should watch out for?