I sat in the classroom fourteen years ago, but not as a student. It was my last parent-teacher conference. Soon my youngest child would graduate.
I didn’t understand the nature of this class. Something about America, but not history. Something about government, but not civics. It was a half-year course, an elective, seemingly designed to fulfill a requirement of time studied, or time served, if you will.
When I asked the teacher the purpose of the class, he replied that he taught students what their rights were as Americans.
He didn’t respond to my mention of their duties.
That mindset reveals what’s wrong in the West today: people have rights to be claimed. And if duties even exist, people are free to disregard them.
The lesson stands in sharp contrast to one I learned as a public school student decades earlier. That lesson would sound foreign in today’s classrooms, but even young students comprehended it then.
It’s simply this: The Golden Rule: “In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you.”
In the intervening years, education shifted from the Golden Rule to an esteem based perspective.
The thought was this: If we tell children they are esteemable, they will become good. The power to be good is within themselves, but they have to think highly of themselves to bring that goodness out.
The results of that way of thinking are self-evident today.
Western society once rested on a three legged stool–family, school, and church or synagogue. What you learned at one place matched what you learned in the other two.
These three institutions taught you that you had imago Dei within you–the image of God. But we cannot see God’s image when we look in the mirror. We can only see it in someone else–our neighbors. We show it when we love them as we love ourselves.
Understanding the importance of esteeming our neighbor is what can make us good people–as much as it is possible for us to become good.
So we must acknowledge that goodness is a lifelong quest. We don’t absorb it in a classroom by claiming our own rights. We only reflect imago Dei by living out the Golden Rule every day.
The Golden Rule is a lesson we sorely need today. But it’s unlikely to find its way into government curricula anytime soon. Fewer people go to church or synagogue to hear it. And the family has not adequately conveyed the concept either. All three institutions have failed to transmit this balm for a peaceful society.
The Golden Rule is a lesson that could have made a difference last Saturday in Charlottesville. It can make a difference any other day in countless other ways across our land. It can make a difference today.
It can make that difference only if we look away from the mirror and into the heart of our neighbors. And then seek their good instead of our own.
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