Honoring God and the Bible’s virtues helps leaders forge character and wise decision-making skills
In the late Allan Bloom’s book, The Closing of the American Mind, he reflected on how, looking into the faces of his freshman classes, he knew they believed that truth is a matter of opinion. While a possible overstatement, it is not difficult within our culture to find ample evidence to support such a thesis. With no absolute foundation for truth or morality, we seem to have embraced a value system that has resulted in confusion and anarchy. Instead of bowing to God’s authority, we have turned to a “man-centered” philosophy that makes chaos is inevitable, and ends with a steady decline in values.
Values are the foundation of all order and are inherent in human nature. We are born with a sense of right and wrong. Telling the truth as opposed to lying, not stealing, not killing, honoring another’s property are all inherent matters of conscience. These values are part of humanness but can be obviated by neglect and denial, rejection, poor example, lack of education and reinforcement.
Values are the bedrock of our democratic system. They are imbedded in the hearts and spirits of our founding fathers. In fact, Thomas Jefferson referred to them as “ancient principles,” and it was upon these principles that our national goals of freedom, prosperity and peace would rest. Principles are eternal.
However, what our public schools teach today is values clarification that implies that there are no eternal truths. The book of Judges refers to this when it says, “Everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.” So, we have replaced the Bible in school with relativism. The ancient principles that Jefferson referred to that were to be the foundation for freedom, prosperity and peace have been replaced by the brittle clay of secularism floating in a sea of moral decay.
When we lose sight of God, restraints are cast off. There is no prayer. There is no moral baseline in which to judge action taken. We become reckless, acting on our own initiative, bearing the brunt of a self-centered lifestyle that comes back on individuals as well as nations.
Values anchor us
Before I went to Vietnam for the first time, the Marine Corps had created a Viet Cong village in the woods at Quantico, Virginia. For about a month, as part of mastering fundamentals, we did reaction drills, entering that village from many different places and times, to test reaction and readiness. I am certain these reaction drills saved my life more than once in Vietnam.
Those oft-repeated drills were just like values that become anchors in the storm, telling us what to do and where to go. They settle our future, setting boundaries for our actions and defining who we really are. Values meet us head on at the moments of truth in life that determine success or failure.
Man’s chief purpose is to establish and preserve values. They are clear statements of policy upon which a business, home, organization, church or country are established and built. Do we need to point out such values? Maybe we do.
Authority is a value that is based on God-ordained leadership. Obedience is a value that has its foundation in character. We cannot save or sanctify ourselves — only God can do that. God will not give us good habits, nor will He give us character. That is up to us, and it requires adopting the right habits that should become just as rote as the reaction drills we did before going to Vietnam. When decisions are required or crisis comes, we need to know what to do by applying the right habit, based on foundational values.
Work ethic is another value that should be applied on the job, in the home, or as a father or mother. What about courtesy, dedication, determination, or money and its use so that it can be used wisely and given generously? How about sanctity of life? The glory of life comes from what we revere and hold dear. Yet through abortion, infanticide and euthanasia we threaten life and argue murder as if it were a point of legality instead of a value paradigm shift in our society.
Jean-Jacques Rousseau said that reason too often deceives us, but conscience never will. But what if our intellectual conscience only reflects the lowest that we know?
Marian Wright Edelman, the founder of Children’s Defense Fund, has said, “Parenting … nurturing the next generation, is the most important function of this society … We talk about family values, but when we look at our policies, we don’t do it.”
We give condoms and birth control devices to our children. Popular music preaches sex and violence. Welfare programs subsidize immoral behavior. Social misfits and social parasites have become society’s mascots. Wasting and expending the gifts of previous generations, politicians are seen as sensitive and applauded for taking the property of one American and giving it to another, turning their failures into success. Criminals who commit despicable acts are labeled sick and hence just like a person who has the flu, can hardly be blamed.
We must focus on fundamentals. We must return to the basics. Not purchased or grasped or yanked out of life, values are earned. I could not describe it better than Kristin Leffel from Sequoyah Middle School in Edmond, Oklahoma. Kristen was a winner in a young writers contest foundation when she wrote the following:
The Value Store of Life
What could I buy in a value store? What would it contain? Would I have enough money? As I walked into the store, I looked over my shopping list. The list read: religious faith, family life, friendship, happiness, and financial success.
The first item on my list was religious faith. I strolled down the aisles until I came to it. The price tag read $400. It is very expensive but very important in my life. This value is worth more than money can buy; therefore I am willing to purchase this value at the bargain price of $400, and into my value basket I placed it.
The second item on my list was family life. When I came upon family life, the price tag read “sale,” $250. Family life is important and worth far more than the $250 price. I could not pass up this bargain, so I placed it in my value basket along with my religious faith.
As I walked further down the aisle, I came upon friendship. The price for friendship was $175. I thought to myself that friendship was pretty cheap. Many people would die for friendship; it is such a precious value. I looked over all the friendships, picked out one that I felt was very special, and placed it in my value basket along with religious faith and family life.
The next thing on my list was happiness. When I came upon happiness, I searched for a price tag. When I found it I first could not make out the price, but finally I determined that it was $100, fifty percent of the original price. It was on sale. Some people spend thousands of dollars on happiness, and I only had to pay $100. I wondered how something so valuable could be so cheap. I held happiness very tightly and gently set it in my value basket.
Finally I was on the last item on my list, which read financial success. This item was easy to find. The price on it read $75. Was this really a bargain? To some people this item would be very expensive, but to me it was not even worth $75. Ashamed, I put it down into my value basket.
When the clerk rang up all the items, the total came to $1,000. He said that he did not know why people bought values when they could earn them. He asked me in a low voice, “Isn’t that what life is about?” As I walked out of the store, I felt ashamed. The clerk was right. You do not buy values; you earn them.
No price tag on values
We cannot pay cash for values. We simply reap what we sow. C. S. Lewis wrote, “We laugh at honor and are surprised to find traitors in our midst.” How can we thumb our noses at moral duty to others and our country? How can we fail our children in giving them the character gifts our parents gave us: self-respect, independence, honesty, thrift and respect for others?
Most problems we face today result from a systemic decline in national morality. It starts from the way we raise children and continues through adulthood, where thrift is a vice and debt a virtue. Then, in our late years, we use Social Security to live off our children and saddle our grandchildren with inescapable debt.
When we focus on the fundamental of choice we will see that there are thousands of day-to-day decisions about values. Each time we make one of these decisions we must evaluate ourselves and then follow that choice. Every time I have had the opportunity to instill moral values into a business entity in the corporate world the results were astounding.
When values and beliefs become embodied in the workplace, they intensify employees‘ commitment, enthusiasm and drive. Once they are embedded in the warp and woof of a business, communication improves. Values lift the integrity of management’s decision-making and ability to evaluate personnel and projects.
It is my opinion that in today’s business world you should be willing to experiment with and change anything at any time with the single exception of values. They are inviolate. And, as it is for business, so it is for our country. Defending values requires constant vigilance and is one of those responsibilities that a leader cannot delegate.
Choices make up a portrait of who we are. And, in a larger venue, the collective choices we make become a portrait of America.