MY SON was upset. He’d spilt juice on the table, literally seconds after I’d asked him to be careful not to spill juice on the table.

I reassured him that I wasn’t angry. I told him it was a mistake and we all make mistakes. Then I gave him a hug.

But he remained upset and told me repeatedly how sorry he was. Spilt juice may seem no big deal, but my son has his own way of looking at the world and can get very upset about things other people will find unimportant. It wasn’t the wasted juice he was upset about, it was the fact he’d spilt it when I’d asked him to be careful not to.

He felt he’d broken my trust. That was a very big deal for him.

So I just held him in the hug; sometimes words aren’t what’s needed. After a while, he wiped his eyes and looked at me. I tried to reassure him again everything was fine.

“I’ve made loads of mistakes in my life,” I said to him, “everyone has.”

He thought for a moment, then gave me one of his smiles, they melt my heart.

Now he could speak: “Like the time when you accidentally threw out my Star Wars DVD and you said sorry and got me a new one.”

“Yes, that was one of my mistakes for sure,” I said.

“You have said sorry, just like I did then, and you forgave me about the DVD, just like I forgive you about the juice. You want another one?”

There wasn’t anything to forgive, of course, but my son thought there was and so I gave him the forgiveness he sought.

He was happy now and gave me another hug before returning to the table. He wanted to help me wipe up the spillage and then very carefully drank his second glass of juice.

It was an everyday insignificant happening. Every child has spilt juice, so it may not seem worth mentioning or writing about.

But for me the incident encapsulated two things of vital importance.

The first was the ability to acknowledge a mistake, take responsibility for it and give a genuine apology. The second is forgiveness, both the ability to forgive and to accept forgiveness.

They are twins for a better world: they both promote empathy, understanding, compassion and taking responsibility for actions.

They are at the heart of honesty and integrity. In that simple moment, he displayed a quality of character that could change the world.

That sounds ridiculously grandiose, I know, but it’s true. Imagine if everyone in the adult world responded with integrity and honesty – every politician, every businessperson, every stranger. Imagine what a different world it would be.

Of course, there are many people who do, but sadly, human society seems structured to reward people who would deny spilling the juice, or say it never happened, or that it was someone else. Being untruthful, denying responsibility, seems all too common.

The acknowledgement of mistakes or failure, or the admission of being wrong, owning up and taking responsibility are often not seen as a strengths but rather disadvantages.

But as always, there is hope, and the incident of my son’s spilt juice gave me that. I’d never say he is any better than anyone else, but I was proud of him and told him so.

“You’re proud of me because I spilled juice on the table?” he quizzed me.

I gave him a big smile. “No, I’m proud of you because of the way you...” I paused, thinking how to explain what I meant.

“…were so honest.”

My sincere hope is that the cynical world won’t erode my son’s way of being. Some may label the way he sees the world a disability. But I see it as quite the opposite. Honesty is the greatest value we can ever strive for.

My son reminded me of this. Nobody is perfect and I’m certainly not. Neither is my son. But it’s the small things that can set the standard for the bigger things in the way we live our lives. Honesty and integrity over spilt juice when you’re eight years old is a very small thing, but it’s a seed that can grow and change the world.