David Altshuler, M.S.
(305) 978-8917 | [email protected]


Spending some time on one of my favorite college campuses recently, I could not help but notice a five-dollar bill on top of the book return box outside the college library. I watched as a sporadic procession of students glanced at Lincoln’s paper portrait on their way into the building. Had this been a comic book rather than real life, I would have read the thought balloon above each child’s head. “Oh look. A five-dollar bill. How lucky. Oh, wait a minute. The money does not belong to me. I attend an institution with an inviolate honor code. I will walk on by and not pocket it.”

And then in the next panel, “I certainly hope the person who misplaced that five dollars comes back to get it soon.“

There aren’t too many colleges in this country that have honor codes never mind effective ones. Davidson College in North Carolina; Washington and Lee University and the University of Virginia; Haverford College and Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania; the United States Naval Academy, and a few dozen others representing a small but elite percentage of the thousands of institutions.

What could ruin this bucolic scene of ethical young people adhering to proper conduct? My snarky wife pointed out that the reason none of the children picked up the five dollars was that all of the students were from privileged homes, and that they couldn’t be bothered with such a small sum. If there had been a stack of hundred-dollar bills, my wife went on, we would have quickly seen how effective the honor code is.

So the moment was ruined for me, although I still like to believe, perhaps naïvely, that an honor code makes a positive difference in the lives of students. 

Shaw’s quip, “we have already determined that, Madam, now we’re just haggling over the price” notwithstanding, there does always seem to be a way to ruin everything. Just as trust is a bucket that is filled up a drop at a time but can be emptied all at once, can parents undo the goodwill they have amassed with a small number of brutally insensitive remarks? 

Musicians are taught: “don’t practice till you get it right, practice till you can’t get it wrong.” Step one is keeping your thoughts and frustrations about your kids to yourself. Not feeling anger is a more advanced skill. Which is not to say that I haven’t come downstairs to notice that for the umpteen-thousandth time Mongolian hordes have decimated my kitchen or perhaps my children had some friends over none of whom had the civility to place a plate in the dishwasher and smoke doesn’t come out of my ears as I ride off in all directions at once only that I don’t feel any better knowing that if I had done a better job parenting, this sentence would have ended several lines ago and my kids would have been more likely to clean up after themselves and their ravenous peers.

“Give me a hand with these dishes” seems to have advantages over “if the kitchen isn’t immaculate within the next several milli-seconds, you’re out of the will.” As always, “what you do one day is what you do every day.” But there is still room for filling up the bucket of good will between you and your children. Every interaction is an opportunity to get it right—to place the relationship where it belongs. Because a child who shared responsibilities with their parent is more likely to pick out a pleasant assisted living facility than a child whose idea of family life was getting yelled at.

Even in these grouchy times, there is a place for honor, shared responsibility, and families who enjoy one another. Maybe one of those places could be your home. Maybe one of those drops in the bucket of trust could be today.

Picture of David Altshuler 2

David Altshuler 2

Copyright © David Altshuler 1980 – 2024    |    Miami, FL • Charlotte, NC     |    (305) 978-8917    |    [email protected]