How often have you heard this story through neighborhood gossip, social media, or the official news? Someone, who for years urged others to “do what’s right no matter how difficult,” has done exactly what he advised everyone else never to do. The family-values advocate runs off with his secretary. The honesty proponent is caught with her hand in the till. And everyone groans or sneers, “The world is full of hypocrites!”
Why can’t people practice what they preach? Usually because they smugly assumed, “Thank God my family will never face a situation like that!” and were unprepared for the actual threat of public embarrassment, financial loss, or walking away from an offer of “real happiness.” Anyone can say, “This is wrong and that is right,” but it takes heart-deep commitment to do the right thing when all circumstances indicate another choice would be less painful.
While you may never face a “principle vs. expediency” decision that could land you on the news, tough decisions enter our lives every week—and how we habitually respond to these determines what we’ll do if a serious matter does come along.
You want your children to grow into strong, principled adults who stand by their values. Yet however much you instruct them to “always do the right thing,” they’ll hear an unspoken “provided it isn’t too hard” if you:
Yes, kids understand there are privileges reserved for grown-ups. No, they won’t believe this extends to having a double standard on core values—and even if they did, do you really want them counting the days until they too can live for instant gratification?
What’s worse than a family plagued by “Well, you complain behind people’s backs” arguments? A family where the parents start the habit of ignoring principles in “unimportant” situations, but the children take the expediency-based route into major scandal. People under twenty-five are particularly bad at discerning where “cheating a little” crosses the line into major risk of getting fired, expelled, or arrested. If that happens to your child, it’s too late to consider whether your taking a few “extras” on expense accounts might have planted the idea.
Of course anyone, child or adult, can make amends for mistakes. But that takes real time and effort, and often fails to undo all the damage. Before you take the easy way out of any situation, make a habit of asking yourself: Would I advise others to do differently? What are the real long-term repercussions? Would I want my children to imitate this example?
The right thing isn’t always the easy thing. But ultimately, doing the right thing always makes things easier for everyone.