Lack of Respect and the Coming Chaos

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Lord of the Flies

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Children throw trash on a lawn. Pit bulls, allowed to run loose, scatter the trash. Children walk across other people’s property, opening unlocked gates to fences and not closing them. Dogs run through one of the gates, dig into the recent grave of a beloved cat, and almost get to the body. When locks are put on those gates, children begin to dismantle the fence in the front yard. In exasperation, the sheriff is called.

This happened to a person I have known literally all my life. To some people, such actions may seem minor in a society in which violent crime is rampant. Yet big things can begin in small ways. Behavior that at first seems like childhood pranks can, without parental guidance, blow up into more serious behavior. And adults who do not care whether their dogs run–two of which attacked the owner–are dangerously irresponsible and reveal a lack of respect and caring for their neighbors.

When I was a child, if I ever disrespected someone else’s property, I would have gotten the belt from both my parents. But I never did show such disrespect–because it is how I was brought up. Most children in the United States, except for the children of those we used to call “trashy” people, were taught to respect other people’s property. If they have permission to take a short cut through someone’s yard that is one thing. To believe that they do such “because they want to” reflects the “me me me” attitude of both parents and children in many families. “I want to take a short cut through my neighbor’s property. So I will.” “I want to steal crops from his garden. So I will.” “I want to borrow items without returning them. So I will.” “I want to take an item from his mailbox. So I will.” “I will” is the product of pride, the primal sin–in the Christian tradition, Satan rebelled against God with the attitude, “Not Thy will, but mine, be done.” Human beings are fallen creatures, and human nature has been damaged (though not destroyed) by self-will. It is difficult to keep selfish desires under control–which is why parents used to take a firm hand in disciplining their children. Now such discipline should never become abusive, but it should be consistent and combined with moral teaching. Part of that teaching is that no one is owed anything by other people, that one should respect other people and their property, and that one should push aside one’s immediate desires for the greater good. The notion of being patient and delaying gratification seems to be missing from many people today, both children and adults. That is a path to barbarism, to Thomas HobbesState of Nature, in which life is “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” This is a Lord of the Flies world in which eventually the civilized and good people, such as Piggy in William Golding‘s novel, are killed, and children hunt with a stick shorted at both ends. Civilization lies on a thread, and what seems to be petty bad behavior can be the knife that cuts through the string of civilization. I can remember in Athens, Georgia, jogging with my Walkman, and children shouted “Look at him, wearing headphones like a girl!” I never would have dreamed saying that to an adult when I was a child. And children who do not respect adults will not respect anyone else.

Prime Minister Cameron of the U.K. recently said the riots were due to a “moral decline.” Despite pseudo-scientists mocking Mr. Cameron, he is correct. The rioters made self-centered, immoral decisions–because they were not brought up to respect other people. I fear for the future of Western Civilization–Western Society may end up in a situation like the chaos of the eight century, with only small groups of monks (or others who want to preserve civilization) keeping the light alive through the darkness of chaos and crime outside. God help us.

Parenting and “Me, Me, Me”

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Echo and Narcissus as Amaterasu and Susano in ...

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In my encounters with both university students and with younger children, I have found that the majority of young people these days are far more self-centered than previous generations. They really believe that the world revolves around them, that if they want to do something, they should do it no matter what it is, and that all that matters is “me, me, me.” University students line up side by side in the hallway and get miffed if I say, “Excuse me” and walk past them. Neighborhood children walk through neighbor’s back yards without permission, leave the fence gates open, and take whatever they can from the gardens–with no feelings of guilt afterward. They believe that it is their right to walk on another person’s property and to steal the products of his labor. They believe that everything is owed them.

This is no surprise since I have taught long enough to see such traits in people who now have college-aged children. When the parents believe that everything is owed them, and give without limit to their children without teaching about work and responsibility, it is no surprise that the children are even worse than the parents. The fundamental ethic among many Americans is “If I want it, I should have it.” Each generation from the baby boomers on has been filled with people with such an attitude.

It is probably too late for parents to do anything about children who are older–if they have a crisis in their lives they may change for the better. Parents should strive to teach the virtues of hard work, responsibility, and integrity, and set an example for their children. Selfishness permeates American society, but parents can do their part to stop the downward trend by rearing their own children not to believe they can take whatever they will. Many young people today have not succumbed to the trap of “me, me, me.” Hopefully the trend that began with the baby boomers will stop so that the next generation is more altruistic than the previous one. I am not optimistic, but hope is also a virtue.

The Pampered Generation

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Greuze, Jean-Baptiste - The Spoiled Child - lo...

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As a university professor, I teach a variety of students, both traditional-age students and older, non-traditional students. I have been blessed with some excellent students who excel. Others may not be the brightest stars in academia, but they give their all even if they make a C in the course. I respect that. There are students who are both academically lazy and lack the ability to be in college. These students do not stick around for long. But then there are students who have the intelligence and ability to excel or at least do well, but do not out of apathy–unfortunately that is what I see the most out of the current generation of 18-22 year-olds.

Sometimes this generation has been called the generation of “trophy kids.” Parents who lack the maturity to find meaning in their own lives attempt to live their lives through their children. Children are pushed into organized sports early on instead of being encouraged in spontaneous play. If they have problems in school, they are diagnosed with ADHD or some other disorder and given their drugs for the day to pacify them. Today’s children are protected from the normal hurts and pains of the real world. Many live in gated communities shut off from the outside world. Parents try to hide from them the facts of disease and death, and they do not teach their children the necessity of working for what they earn. Instead, everything they desire is given to them. When they face tragedy, such as a death of a family member or close friend, or when they face a breakup with a romantic partner, they tend to fall apart. I remember in November of 1982 when my granddaddy died. I always dreaded that day from my childhood on, when I’d dream he turned into a skeleton in front of me. But my senior year in college, the inevitable happened. I had a term paper due in Introduction to Old Testament. Despite the fact of heartbreak beyond belief, I returned to school two days after the funeral and completed the term paper (as well as my other class assignments) by the due date. It was difficult, but I understood that, as unfair as it might be, life goes on after a death.

But if the average traditional-age student suffers a similar loss, that student will be unable to function for a week or more. Sometimes the student may drop out of school the rest of the semester. Now if that student were in the work force, he or she would most likely lose a job missing that many days of work, even after a death in the family. Life has its joys, but it is also cruel. By protecting their children from the inevitable losses of life, parents have failed in their duty to prepare their children for life away from home. This, and not only economic problems, helps explain the glut of adult children returning to live with their parents. Their parents used to provide everything they desired–why not once more? The problem is that parents do not live forever, and they will leave behind someone who is another strain on the social-welfare system, someone who will contribute little to loved ones or to society.

Some students will mature despite their parents’ failures. Some students who were brought up the proper way will become apathetic and lazy. But most students who were pampered as children will desire to be pampered adults. They will do the least amount of work to pass in college, they will do barely enough to get by when they are employed (and many will not care if they are fired for inadequate job performance). They will not vote, nor will they contribute to the good of their community. Self-absorbed, they will not be able to maintain stable marriages. Two self-absorbed people will not a marriage make.

In I Samuel, God punished Eli, not because he was a bad man, but because he knew his sons were doing evil, “and he restrained them not.” That mistake cost Israel a battle and cost Eli his life. What will be the cost to today’s parents who create shells of human beings who are too lazy to work, too lazy to think, and too fragile to bear the bumps of life?