My dad used to say, "Life is a great trainer. You make your choices, and you live the consequences." Did you hear any of these statements in your home? "No pain no gain." "Don't buy what you can't afford." "Waste not; want not." "You hang out with trouble, you get trouble." Mom would add, "You're not leaving the house dressed like that!"
We had parents who weren't afraid of "destroying" our self-esteem by lecturing us, disciplining us, and letting us experience what comes from handling our own disappointments and obstacles. When a teacher called, my parents didn't blame the teacher; they confronted me. They knew that personal responsibility, self-reliance and resilience are taught and reinforced by experience.
My parents cared enough and loved me enough to prepare me for a life that would have struggles, disappointments, and failures to match my successes and achievements. They were there standing by me for both. They let me earn my maturity overcoming my own problems...one problem at a time. I valued their counsel and support, but they let me learn from life. That kind of confidence is earned, not manufactured by shallow praise.
I'm reminded of scenes from Cinderella Man, where a down-and-out boxer struggled to survive and care for his family through the Great Depression. He disciplined his son for stealing, let him know that such behavior was wrong, and walked with him to take back and apologize for what he had stolen. Unable to make enough to feed his family, he reluctantly took government aid. But when he found his way back to success in the ring, he returned to the welfare office, waited in line, and paid back every dime he had received. That's values in action!
Like-minded parents helped build an American culture that fostered faith, hard work, resourcefulness, and unprecedented achievement. America has never been nor will it ever be a perfect country, but why do millions still work so hard to get into this blessed country? America has always been a land of opportunity for people willing to work their way to success. It still is.
Unfortunately, fewer parents are teaching, modeling and reinforcing such core American values today. When teachers call to confront poor behavior, too many parents are quick to blame the teacher. You read of parents of college students who march into the office of professors to complain about a poor grade that could impact their adult "children's" post-graduate placements.
When students take out enormous loans to pay for an education that is unlikely to get them a job, many are now asking government to pay the tab for their poor judgment. Out of wedlock births are now rewarded with ongoing welfare support and food stamps.
When unable to find a job, too many take years of unemployment checks to avoid taking any job that might be beneath their dignity or pay grade.
This attitude is contagious -- why be responsible when you can have others pay the bill for your choices. It's that same attitude that causes bankrupt cities that have poorly managed contracts and promised benefit packages they can't afford to seek a federal government bailout -- a bailout paid by citizens who worked hard to manage their own finances to avoid such over-spending.
Sadly, our current culture is rewarding competing values, and we're electing politicians who are systematically dismantling the values that have produced the most productive country in human history. It's time for a little reality testing and personal accountability. It's time to let failure, disappoint, and struggle provide the invaluable life lessons that are essential to any viable culture.
As the playwright George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in the world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”