I wasn’t expecting an ethics lesson when I turned on the Winter Olympic Trials, but one jumped out at me anyway. And, weird as it may seem, it came from the sport of Curling. You know, where they aim a squashed round rock with a handle at a target down a bowling alley made of ice, and score points for stopping it in the right place.
What I learned is that the aim at the beginning makes most of the difference. The guy who launches the stone must be precise because once it is on its way, only minor changes can be made in direction and pace. The guys with the brooms can sweep all they want to, but once the direction is set, and the speed is determined, the effects they can have on the stone are pretty minor.
As I watched, I couldn’t help but think the same is true with a life. So much of where we end up results from the way we were pushed at the start, and the direction our lives took from the beginning. And that’s where ethics come in.
Call them values, or convictions, or worldview or whatever you want, but the fact remains that the trajectory of our lives generally is set by the things we either accept or reject in our formative years.
Of course, there will always be wonderful stories of those whose lives are radically changed through personal effort or outside benevolence. But who we are, and how we view life, labor, truth, and other people will for the most part be the fruit of the lessons and convictions gained early on.
This means parenting is one of the most essential tasks this life offers. Sadly however, those – especially women – who decide to forego careers to stay at home and raise the kids are often marginalized today. As success and accomplishment in life are more and more measured by the things money can buy, or the power of position, those who stay home to “start the rock” down the alley are thought to be either wasting their lives or unfit for a “real job.” And while this perspective is both demeaning and dunder-headed, the real tragedy is that parenting is being undervalued, under resourced, and largely undermined. Those who are, in reality, addicted to their own significance in placing their welfare above that of their children, are turning too often to surrogate parents, or choosing to be absentee parents to latch-key kids.
Here’s the deal. When kids don’t receive a consistent and coherent ethical system from their parents, they will be susceptible to anyone who will give it to them. They will pick up pieces here and there, from media, peers, and the current entertainment scene. And as impressionable youth, they will be drawn to values and attitudes that fuel their selfishness while diluting any sense of morality. When you see them with ear buds on, and the music pumping, think of all Miley, Kanye, Taylor, and Beyonce are teaching them.
Trajectory matters. And the start and first few steps along the path matter most. It is essential for parents to be parents, and not peers. They must teach, train, and discipline their kids. They must nourish and nurture them with truth, modeling it in valuing honesty, humility, courage, hard work, and a willingness to stand alone for what is right.
It works best when parents look outside themselves to ground their worldview. That’s where God comes in. Sure, you can scoff and throw out the very idea of a supernatural being who sovereignly and graciously superintends this world, revealing his ways and will through the Bible. Largely, our society has done just that and, ironically, one need only look at popular culture today to understand just how tragic that choice has been.
When we throw away our accountability to, and ultimate reliance on God we end up adrift on the sea of pragmatic, self-centered hedonism. The tragedy is we’re paying dearly for our pleasure, and the currency is our children.