Not long ago I was driving with a 15-year-old in my car one evening on a quiet road. Nearing an intersection the traffic light switched to yellow. I hit the brakes just hard enough for an abrupt stop.
The light stayed red a long time. The teen was antsy to return home. After sitting a few more seconds, I was asked why I didn’t just run the light.
My initial reply was that the nearby police officer we couldn’t see was waiting with a ticket. My later reply was that I was obeying the law.
The counter-argument was that no one was there, no one would know we ran it, no one else would be affected, therefore, what was the big deal?
Despite my reasoning, I don’t believe the teen bought my answers. The teen, getting ready to become a driver, would likely have decided to run the light.
There may have been no repercussions, either. The teen would likely have been home that much sooner, without a ticket or an accident. So why not just do it?
It’s a philosophy that’s hard to get into the minds of our youth, especially in a day and age when they have so many reasons to believe they are smarter than adults based on how they handle various forms of technology.
The philosophy is hard to get into the minds of adults as well, unfortunately.
Pro sports are a good example of the struggle to do what’s right. The “bullying” situation involving players in the National Football League, for example, which wasn’t stopped until the public was made aware of the issue.
In Major League Baseball there is a fight against performance-enhancing drug use. Baseball writers selecting Hall of Fame candidates take into account which players presumably used steroids during their careers.
The reason for steroid use is to gain an extra advantage on non-users, more productivity and more money, despite the fact that it’s unethical, even if the sport lacked a rule against it, and that there were federal laws against steroid use.
Lance Armstrong was the king of his sport, cycling. Then he was accused of cheating via drug enhancement. He denied it, for many years, made a ton of money, and then begged the world to forgive him because he just made a mistake.
These cheaters and liars face various forms of repercussion. But does it really matter to them, now that they have enough money to survive more than a lifetime following their intentional ‘mistakes’?
Lesson learned, especially by sports fans and impressionable youth: Cheat now, earn stuff, and if you get caught, deny continuously and keep as much of what you reaped as possible until you have to ask for forgiveness.
I’m so happy I attended a presentation by University of Louisville assistant football coach Larry Slade, offering advice to students, the kind they should hear, and learn, and know, and understand, and believe, and implement.
Slade presented the university’s Cards Strong program, promoted by head coach Charlie Strong, featuring the CARDS rules: Commitment, Attitude, Respect, Discipline and Sacrifice.
It was refreshing to hear an adult, especially a successful sports figurehead, saying these things to an audience of young adults.
The Cynical Journalist continues to fight the coming of old age versus the disillusionment of perpetual youth. In this instance, how do I share this kind of wisdom, like Slade?
I remind myself that I didn’t need to reach an advanced stage in life to understand these things. I picked them up from early childhood.
My father was declared legally blind when he was 15. Never had a driver’s license or a car. What in the world could he do in life?
In Dad’s case, accepting government disability was neither an option nor a solution. Sitting around feeling sorry and waiting for what was due to him wasn’t a consideration.
He finished high school, he played in a band, he got a job as a machinist, and then he worked at that job for 36 years. His employer was unaware of any vision issues.
He couldn’t drive to work, so most days involved walking a few blocks to a main road to catch a bus into the city, then another eight blocks to work, no matter the weather.
Dad got married. To provide for his wife and eventual five kids he worked overtime. He worked Saturdays. He worked double shifts.
He did this in a factory, where it was scorching hot or stifling cold. It was loud, dirty, and occasionally dangerous. Many days he came home with gashes in his hands and arms.
In one 10-year stretch Dad had perfect work attendance, including the overtime. He never called in sick. Never arrived late despite not being able to drive himself.
Upon reflection, that’s commitment, attitude, respect, discipline and sacrifice. I didn’t have to be told these things; I watched and I learned.
That was just the practical side. Dad taught more valuable life lessons than job integrity.
Dad is kind to everyone. He goes out of his way for anyone. He does the right thing, and he does it all the time, whether or not anyone notices.
There must’ve been a thousand times growing up where I noticed. Dad did things that made no common sense to me. I remember thinking, as a young person, “Why would he do that?”
He didn’t usually tell me why, but he kept doing it. At some point it finally clicked.
Whether it was being the only church member to clean the parking lot after a festival, or donating money to a homeless man outside of church, or returning a lost wallet with money still inside, it really didn’t matter. In every single moment Dad did, or at least tried to do, the right thing.
Sometimes others noticed, and sometimes they made surprised faces or even snarky side comments. Most times Dad did these things without witness. The right thing is what he always does. To do that, you have to know what the right things are.
I think we all know. We should know. Someone should’ve taught us, or we should’ve picked up on those things over the course of living life.
It’s one thing to know the right thing. It’s another to do the right thing. It’s much more difficult to implement, especially being human. But it’s not impossible.
I suppose it’s easier to get by on cheating, lying, cutting corners for personal gain. But I can’t, in any scenario, understand what kind of life that would be, especially when you’re caught.
Life the easy way, without properly earning anything, is not living; It is merely existing. I’d rather live. It’s not easy. It never really was. But it’s worth it.
I hope society still has a conscious somewhere. I’m glad to hear people like Coach Slade offering such substantial reminders of it.
I hope someone out there learns this, whether or not it’s through this writing. I am not looking for credit. I would give it to Dad or Coach Slade anyway.
I’m pretty sure that, when I was 15, if Dad could drive, he would’ve stopped abruptly at that yellow light. And I would’ve questioned it. So there’s always hope.
“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” - Helen Keller