I recently had a conversation with each of my sons about what it means to do the right thing. To me, it means demonstrating integrity and compassion and grace, especially when no one is watching. It pays to be specific about such things, because no doubt they will encounter the exact opposite in their lives. They will see lying, cheating people get ahead, who will succeed by doing the wrong things—and they’ll have to be OK with that.
I’m not suggesting my sons allow themselves to be exploited or taken advantage of, or that they turn their backs and ignore wrong-doing. But I am letting them know that there may come a time when they will be faced with the option of doing something “bad” to get ahead, and when they decline, someone else may do it instead. And that person may very well get away with it, will be rewarded for it even. When that happens, when you see bad behavior rewarded, it can be an invitation to join them. Resisting this urge will be the measure of your character.
I realize there is not always a cut-and-dried choice between right and wrong. We all know life is not like that, it is mostly about the grey in between. But I’d like them to have the tools to make the best decision possible, to be guided by an inner moral compass that does not default to “what will make me the most money?” or “how can I attain more power?”
Right now they are blissfully unaware of the unscrupulousness of certain people they will encounter in life. That’s a good thing, but it can be a problem when they are suddenly thrown into a situation that threatens to derail them, or reward them for going along with questionable behavior.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this, about the nature of right vs wrong, thanks to our current political climate. From Congress to the White House, we’ve never seen such levels of craven hypocrisy, willful disregard for the greater good and quite possibly treasonous actions before and after the election. It has shaken me to my core, worrying what message this sends to our young people.
Thankfully, I don’t believe the integrity of this nation, or rather the best of this nation, is reflected in the behavior of the current “First Family,” who seem to travel willingly in the seedy shadows of those who would trade anything for money or power or access, who lie as a default because that is what they have always done and somehow it’s got them this far. While our highest office holders have often shown their human fallibility, few have shown such malice of thought and deed.
So it really does mean we need to amplify a higher expectation of our young people. It’s up to us to remind them that this is not the way to succeed, even if it has, for this brief moment, worked.