The social climate today is marred with violence, hate, deceit and abuse. Once sacred institutions have violated the public trust. People from every profession have fallen from grace. However, in the midst of this social mayhem there are still prophetic voices that are calling us to truth, honesty and respect for others.
The question to be raised is, "Are we listening to the voices that are challenging us to be more, despite our culture? Or are we settling for the mediocrity of indifference and selfishness?"
So often people will say to me that today's generation of young people are immoral. I don't agree. To be immoral, you need to know right from wrong and purposefully choose wrong.
In fairness to the present generation, I am not convinced that they are clear on "rightness" and "wrongness." How can they be clear if we who lead them and are trying to parent them are not clear?
We live in an age where there is an excuse for everything. No one seems to be responsible for his or her actions. Some would like to confuse compassion with accountability. I am a strong advocate of compassion, but not without responsibility.
Growing up in this age is exciting, with all of our new technology and scientific advancements. However, it is also socially and morally very burdensome. There is little clarity about some very basic human issues.
Thirty years ago life was simpler. Things were clear. They were black or white. There was little or no gray. It was the age of fire and brimstone. I am not suggesting for a minute that we return to the rigidity of yesteryear. However, there was clarity when it came to living that is absent today.
There was an informal but defined partnership between family, school, church/temple and community. The basic human principles of respect, responsibility, accountability and honesty were reinforced in every area. Parents supported parents and schools supported family life. In turn, parents were in concert with the leadership of their schools.
Unfortunately, that partnership gradually became infected and now hardly even exists. In too many communities, parents and schools are in an adversarial race with each other. The value of respect has broken down in every area of life, to the point where it is almost non-existent.
Where do children learn right from wrong? One would immediately say from family. Objectively, that is correct. Even in those families that make a valiant effort to ground their children in very positive human values, those values are often unconsciously but clearly undermined and contradicted. This happens multiple times a day in countless communities.
The media continues to give mixed messages that confuse the searching teenager. At times, those messages even enable him or her to make poor choices that ultimately could become lethal.
Everyone is concerned about teenage social behavior, and we should be. A day does not pass where we don't hear a tragic story where a young person has not senselessly lost his or her life.
However, what are we doing to empower our kids to make positive choices? Where do they learn the critical thinking skills that will aid in their decision-making
process? What forums exist in their lives without shame and blame, where they can talk about peer pressure, drug and alcohol use, sex, relationships and their parents? As a society, we cannot even agree on who should present sex education in our schools.
This dilemma is a shared burden. We as parents are failing in our responsibility. Our schools are being buried in the politics of indifference. Our religious community has been woefully negligent in being a catalyst for positive conversation and support.
Our children don't need another arena that exploits their misdeeds or puts them down. Life in and of itself is tough enough. We need to work harder at building bridges and not erecting new walls of isolation and destructive criticism.
Parenting is a full time enterprise. No matter what our personal circumstance, we need to make time to parent our children, even if they resist. If our children are amoral or immoral, that is our fault. What have we done to instill and nurture basic moral values in them? What kind of on-going conversations do we have to address the struggles of growing up?
Life is hard no matter where you are on the continuum. We are constantly faced with decisions and choices. With every choice and/or decision, there is a consequence. We all need to be held accountable for our choices. No one, no matter who they are, should be exempt. Status should not give one social exemptions and entitlements.
Unfortunately, that is not how life plays out. It is not what you know, but who you know that seems to matter. That's wrong, because the poor and socially disconnected rarely have a shot.
As our nation continues the rhetoric of war, we need to talk to our children about this issue. We need to educate ourselves first, because no matter what your politics, in war, no one really wins. Innocent women and children die. Young men and women in our armed services are forever changed, and not always for the better. We are not invincible and we are not always right. As thinking people, we have the right to disagree with our government, our religion and our parents. If we disagree, it does not make us bad people, or people who should be scorned or put down. We have a right to an opinion, even if it goes against the mainstream.
The great gift of our democracy is our freedom of speech. However, that gift needs to be used not as a weapon to put people down, but rather as a vehicle to express our diversity and difference.
Our young people need to be encouraged to use this gift in a positive way. As their parents, we need to lead by example. We need to talk about the tough issues and not be afraid to stand up for respect, responsibility and justice for all.