I grew up on a farm in rural Ohio from 1962 until 1982. It was there I learned the basics of right and wrong. My parents worked hard with that renowned Midwest work ethic and taught by example, small drops of verbal wisdom, and by their mistakes. We actually lived by the Golden Rule—do unto others as you would have done unto you. Along with that came the important lessons of honesty, integrity, generosity, a helpful spirit, and an ingrained faith in God. Mom and Dad pitched in when neighbors needed help and graciously accepted that help in return when needed. My parents taught humility with a strong dose of reality, as I quickly learned that the world did not revolve around me and my wants (gasp!). I was raised knowing that all people were the same and having money did not define a person’s worth and neither did their poverty.
My siblings and I were taught grace. Mom and Dad knew we would make a lifetime of missteps, and they have always been quick to forgive. More importantly, that forgiveness did not come without having to take responsibility for our actions and did not excuse us from suffering the consequences of our own misdeeds.
Those lessons have served me well. The value of hard work has enabled me to reach goals toward the future I want. Bills are always paid first and frivolous things come last—if at all. Honesty is always the best route to take, doing the right thing is not always the easiest, and what I do when nobody is looking defines me as a person.
Oh, I know—it all sounds a tad self-righteous, but, believe me, my parents, siblings, or I are nowhere near perfect. Our family has many shortcomings, and, to be honest, we are a dysfunctional hot mess. We’ve all made mistakes, fell flat on our faces, learned things the hard way, and were each miserable in our own stubbornness and weaknesses more times than we can count. But, we learned the fine art of using our childhood lessons to get back up, dust ourselves off, and take another stab at life a little bit wiser and more determined. All along, we’ve contributed to society, worked for everything we’ve received, built solid families with the same values, and we haven’t ended up in prison.
The lessons my parents taught me were the perfect template for living life. What they didn’t teach me, however, has been challenging to overcome. I wasn’t aware that not everyone was raised with the same principles. There are many more things I didn’t know. People can be dishonest and prey on or manipulate someone more innocent and naïve. Thieves steal from others instead of work for what they want. Some folks feel the world owes them something just for being born. There are bullies who target those weaker, different, challenged, or unable to defend themselves. Some are cruel enough to hurt and maim someone just to steal a dollar. Criminals actually shoot to kill someone just for the sake of killing. Society defends the lawbreakers and vilifies the police who serve and protect. Protesters scoff at the soldiers defending our freedom. Politicians do not actually represent constituents but are self-serving and corrupt. People pretend to be homeless as a means to earn a living. Others accept benefits of the welfare system claiming basic needs of food and shelter, only to be texting on smart phones, spending money on tattoos, and sporting fancy manicures. Children are no longer disciplined, take no personal responsibility for their actions, and are taught that it’s easier to be given things than to work for them. Liars continue to lie without conscience, assuming the stupidity of the person they are lying to. Terrorists want to bomb us, kill us, and humiliate us. I can go on an on—just watch the news and the depressing reality slaps us right in our faces.
I grew up in an innocent bubble of what is right or wrong and believing that people should be treated with respect. As a result, I fell prey to someone savvy in taking advantage. I fell for a con game a time or two or three. I’ve had people lie to my face and quickly forgave them, only to have the same thing be repeated. I’ve learned the real world of betrayal, dishonesty, and thievery the hard way. That’s how I truly became an adult—a much wiser, more wary, and extremely cynical adult.
My parents were not wrong in teaching me the basics. Those early lessons are an ingrained part of my psyche—I still strive to be honest, pay my dues, work for a living, and keep my integrity. It’s not always easy and, more times than not, I fail miserably. I’ll continue to pray for the strength to pick myself up when I fail and try to be a better person than I was the day before. I will forgive and show the grace I’ve been given.
People still make me sad. The hate in the world still breaks my heart. This present-day world and the erosion of humanity make me so very afraid for my children and future grandchildren. The only hope I see for them is the certainty they will be taught the same basics of right and wrong. Because of that, just maybe, this world will be a better place someday–especially if we all hold onto and pass along those values. Maybe our present will pendulum back to the past where good always overturns evil, where we were all a little more honest, a lot kinder, and always responsible for our own actions. I hope that someday my descendants do not have to learn the things my parents didn’t teach me—it’s a stretch, but I do believe in miracles through faith in God and in the power of right and wrong.