Happy Black Friday, America! Although Black Friday is no longer stirring as much controversy as it did when it first started encroaching on Thursday night and pulling people away from their family Thanksgiving celebrations. Merchants have now pushed it so far forward that in some cases, it’s crept past Thanksgiving and started so early that their Black Friday sales are over by the previous Tuesday or Wednesday. Well, at least it’s no longer interfering so much with Thanksgiving, although at this rate, it might soon be competing with Halloween.
Like many Americans, I’m making sure I enjoy this holiday with my family and friends by not talking about politics. Instead, I'd like to talk about something that doesn't change with the passing headlines. It's the greatest gift that a parent can give to a child: the gift of character. This is the time of year when people go out shopping for holiday bargains, and it’s easy to let the thrill of the hunt and the lure of saving a few dollars override our good manners and consideration for others. But if you have character, that’s not a problem.
Where does character come from? It’s rooted in parents teaching their kids integrity and respect for others. And it may not be politically correct to say so, but kids need to be disciplined according to traditional, agreed-upon standards.
A few years ago, a Black Friday crowd in New York became so crazed to get at bargains that they trampled a Walmart worker to death, and trampled other workers who tried to help him. When told the store was being closed because of the death, they shouted curses and just kept shopping. If you could turn back the clock a decade or two, I'll bet you would see most of those shoppers as kids, running wild, bullying other kids, sassing their elders...in other words, having no boundaries and being taught no consideration for others. If you'd said anything to their parents then, they might've replied, "We don't want to stifle their creativity." Or "We don't want to impose our standards on our kids. Let them figure out for themselves what feels right to them." Instead of admitting that their behavior was objectively wrong, they might've tried to rationalize it as a disease or a disorder or as being “free-spirited.” Or maybe they would've just cursed and punched you for daring to question their parenting.
Children may act as if they resent discipline, but they not only need it, they secretly crave it. They need parents to instill the Golden Rule, and to teach them that there are certain lines we all must stay within, or else society falls apart. There are thousands of strips of concrete in every city. Imagine what would happen if every airline pilot made a personal, creative decision about which patch of concrete it would “feel good” to land on.
We live in a time when mass media and social media cause shifts in standards for language or behavior to take the nation by storm, and suddenly, both living and historic figures are being condemned for not measuring up to standards that didn’t even exist before last Tuesday (are you old enough to remember ‘way back to when it wasn’t considered hateful, bigoted, intolerant transphobia to object to a middle-aged man walking into the ladies’ room when your 14-year-old daughter was in there?)
But we can’t be constantly judging the past by ever-shifting standards of the moment. As British author L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” The only fair way to judge anyone, past or present, is by an immovable moral standard that’s not subject to the whims of changing fads and opinions. And to do that, children have to be taught such standards. Standards such as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Take responsibility for your own actions. And try to keep your head even when everyone around you is losing theirs.
In 1997, Arkansas was struck by a devastating tornado. As Governor, I was visiting one of the worst-hit towns when State Rep. Martha Shoffner said she had to show me something. She took me to a courthouse that had lost its roof. Inside was a museum in which everything had been blown away or destroyed, except for one thing. Still hanging on the wall was my official Governor's photo. It hadn’t broken or fallen off. It wasn't even tilted. I took it as a sobering reminder that no matter what disaster might befall our state, it was the Governor’s responsibility to remain steady and see everyone through.
The thought occurred to me then that we can't keep storms out of our kids' lives, and we can't teach them to hide from storms. All we can do is give them a strong enough foundation so that when life’s storms inevitably come, they'll be prepared to ride them out with a level head and a steady hand, and not go off the wall.
Here’s wishing you a safe and courteous shopping day and a happy Thanksgiving weekend!
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