When a diminutive Florida "preacher" threatened to burn a copy of the Koran on the anniversary of 9-11 it had an international impact for one reason: the media fell into his hands as they lavished attention on the little man looking his two minutes of fame.
While he ended up calling off his absurd stunt, fame-seekers in Tennessee, Kansas, and Wyoming, quickly scrambled to the waiting spotlight by making similar threats. In the process, they - and the media that was so eager to give them the spotlight - threatened the lives of military and intelligence personnel and fanned the flames of hatred both here and abroad. For what? Instant celebrity? To increase ratings?
It's ironic that these high profile cases of bad example threatened to eclipse the legacy of selflessness, courage and perseverance given by the quiet heroes of 9-11 nearly a decade ago. In the days and months following that tragic day, America was inspired by the bravery of firefighters, the self-sacrifice of exhausted medical and rescue workers, and the generosity of ordinary Americans driven to ease the suffering of fellow citizens. They labored, and they gave, unmotivated by press attention or personal gain. And their goodness inspired others to become better people. The negative lessons of the past weekend are many: the "power" of the media; the craving for instant celebrity; the idiocy of making "stars" out of idiots. But the positive lesson of the power of personal example is one which must not be lost.
The heroes of 9/11 and the glory-seeking villans of the past week illustrate how our daily choices will have an impact on others. As the book of Proverbs reminds us, "One who is righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray." (Prov. 12:26, ESV).
How to Save Your Family by the Power of Example
Mindful of the stark contrast between the media-hungry Koran-burners and the quiet, persevering heroes of 9-11, what should we teach our children about the power of example? Three things come to mind.
First, a good example doesn't need a spotlight to be influential. Our celebrity culture makes it easy for our children to assume that they need fame if they want to achieve something good. We need to remind them that doing good does not require a celebrity platform. It starts in our own circles of influence, in our daily decisions.
Second, our example is most powerful when it's consistent over time. It's not hard to search our own memory banks for the consistent witnesses who inspired us to be better. I remember glimpsing my own father, on his knees by his bed, praying for his patients-an image so profound it continues to inspire me to practice my own faith to this very day.
Finally, as parents we need to remember that being a good example starts with us. While friends and the media have a tremendous impact on our teens, guess who they name as the most powerful influence in their lives? You. A recent study found that one of the strongest predictors whether a young adult will participate in volunteer work or charitable giving is whether their parents did. I can't think of a better way to honor the legacy of those who perished in 9-11 than by claiming the power of good over evil. It begins in the hearts of each one of us, and spreads by the power of a good example.