Thursday, June 10, 2010

Virtue in a World of Vice

In a recent school assignment, I was asked to comment on William Bennett’s introduction to The Book of Virtues. My assignment was supposed to be about two paragraphs long. Instead, it is almost a thousand words. As I re-read what I wrote, I realized it is something our society desperately needs to hear. I hope you will take a few minutes to read it, give me your comments, and if you think it is worthwhile reading, pass it along!

“Nothing in recent years, on television or anywhere else, has improved on a good story that begins ‘Once upon a time . . .’” Thus says William Bennett in his introduction to the “Book of Virtues.” While this is true, I believe Bennett leaves out an important factor. That factor is the prevalence of modern media in a child’s life. Although it is true that a child will learn from the fascinating and instructive stories he hears, he will also be influenced most by those things to which he receives the most exposure. A child will be influenced by what he or she sees most, not by what influence is the best story. With modern media and technology and their agendas and influences bombarding the contemporary child from nearly every angle, virtuous stories scattered here and there are not enough. The child will not separate the truths of the stories from the falsehoods presented in the media. To him, they are both just stories. One upholds honesty, compassion, and wisdom. The other glamorizes selfishness, foolishness, and vice. Which should he believe? Which should he cling to? Which should he model? Unfortunately, in modern times, the excitement and entertainment of the latter is almost too much for the over-stimulated child to resist. He chases after what will make him happy and entertain him the most. In many cases, the virtuous tale holds no power compared to the foolish, but highly addictive entertainment by which the modern child is surrounded.

In essence, today’s child needs more than occasional exposure to a virtuous story. He needs a reason to incline his life toward virtue instead of vice. He needs a foundation; he needs constancy in a world of immorality and few absolutes. He needs a moral guideline that goes beyond fairy tales and myths. From personal experience, I can testify that my inclination toward virtuous living did not come merely from tales of virtue, historical examples, or even Biblical examples. First and foremost, I had a desire to please God. I learned at an early age that my goodness would never be enough and that a Savior had died for my sins. I also learned that I could never repay my debt to Him. I did not need to. He paid my debt once and for all. In light of such a sacrifice, I now had a reason to cling to virtue and look with disdain upon vice and “sin.” I wanted to please my Lord, as a young child wants to please his parents. Though parents will not always be there, the Lord Jesus is always here. My motivation in life to this day is to please my Savior. Moral guidelines are unimportant until a child realizes why he should live a moral life.

Once a child realizes his need for and dependence on the Lord, moral stories can then find their place. For, you see, at the end of every moral story, the inquiring child will ask “why?” Why should he follow the example of the characters in the story? Why not watch cartoons or teen idols on TV and emulate their character traits? The answer comes from the foundation that has already been laid. Do you want to live a life pleasing to the Lord? My answer, even in the midst of a temper tantrum at age four, would have been a solemn “yes.” The story, then, becomes an example of how morality plays out in one’s life, not a presiding reason or foundation upon which a life is built. Who wants to live a life based on fairy tales? There is no logic behind giving a child a virtuous story and a cartoon and telling them to abide by one and merely be entertained by the other.

A friend pointed out to me the other day the difference he observed between generations. In past generations, people knew both what they believed, and why they believed it. In recent years, many people have forgotten why they believe. Now, however, children want to know "why?"

The people of recent generations rely only on loose moral guidelines of an origin they cannot remember. Many have even discarded what few morals they had remaining. There has, however, in the generation that is coming up now, been a sort of awakening. The current generations see how their lives were adversely affected by lack of moral guidelines and virtuous living. Consequently, they endeavor to redeem their mistakes by ensuring that their progeny pursue virtue in their lives and avoid the mistakes and pain they themselves endured. As morals are thrust at them and they are commanded to live a “good” life, the budding generation is asking “why?” They cannot understand the distant pain of their progenitors’ past decisions, and a fairy tale story is simply not good enough. They are a generation of realists. They want a reason that they should forsake the culture’s trend and follow a seemingly obsolete way of life. The rules parents attempt to impose, such as “don’t do drugs” and “have safe sex” mean nothing to those who can neither see the consequences nor comprehend themselves being anything less than immortal and invincible. Worse yet, the parents cannot provide the much needed explanations. They cannot tell their children why they should live a good life, because they do not remember. They cannot explain to them why they should not follow the example of their parents, their older siblings, and their friends.

There is one, and only one hope for a worried generation, scarred by past mistakes, to convey truth and virtue to this searching, floundering generation. I maintain that the sole hope for raising a virtuous child in a world where virtue is scorned is for both parents and children to turn to the Savior, Jesus Christ. He alone can change hearts and guide His children in paths of righteousness.

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