…and this, folks, is why you should discipline your children and expect others to do the same.

I was thinking about giving up on blogging.  With an infant, a four-year-old, and two parents who need a lot of my assistance around their house, I have found time to be at somewhat of a premium.  I was just going to kill the website, save myself a little money in web hosting, and let this whole thing ride off into the sunset.

That was until I got the following responses to an email that I sent last week:

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I know what you’re thinking.

I used to be a youth minister and this must be from one of my former students who is in college and making some bad decisions.  I must have written an email trying to address some bad behavior or poor choices on the part of someone in their late teens or early twenties and this is their response.

Well, you could think that…and you would be wrong.

These were the responses from a man in his forties who just ran for an elected position in city government for our town.  We had a few personal exchanges in the past, regarding a pertinent local issue and so I had his personal email address.  I could explain further about our interaction or relationship, but that might give away his identity and I honestly believe that the main point is about something much bigger than the specifics that led to the email exchange.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure on my part, I must admit that I was tough on this guy.  He had said and done some things that were generating a lot of hurt and animosity; so much so that some of it ended up on Youtube…and in the local paper…and on the local television news.  He was reflecting badly on part of my community, he was saying very hurtful things to and about peaceful, decent people in the public forum, and I felt that his attitude was detrimental to our whole city.  I had sat back and watched all of his behavior that I could stand and I had the avenue, so I took the opportunity to punch his ticket.  It needed to be done and I was in the position to do it.  Like I said in the subject line of the email, I was trying to create a teachable moment.

Anyway, here is the crux of the issue:  I sent a private email to an adult male which expressed my concerns and the responses that I got were what I would have expected to get from a fourteen or fifteen year-old teenager with a bad attitude.  This guy is old enough to and has run for public office.  He is old enough to buy alcohol and firearms.  He is married and has kids.  He is all these things and he hits me with “whatever” and “I’m not even reading this” as his response?

That is insane.

If he had come back with a reasoned response, explaining his behavior or apologizing, I could have respected him.  If he had blasted me with anger and misinformation (which is his usual tactic in the public forum), I could have at least understood.  Any of that I could have comprehended, but not this.  This is not even truthful, as I was contacted by the head of a community discussion group because his wife was questioning my involvement the very next day.  Oh, he read it, alright.  He just couldn’t maturely address the issues and that is where the trouble lies.

As a nation, we have completely disregarded adequately disciplining our children and it is already coming back to bite us.  Just to be clear, when I say “as a nation”, I mean everyone.  I mean white, black, brown, plaid, liberal, conservative, Christian, Jew, Muslim, gay, straight, vegetarian, omnivore, educated, uneducated, rich, poor…I don’t care, you name it.  We have all dropped the ball.  Admittedly, some of us have botched it more than others, but we are all a long way from the days when I knew that if I got in trouble at someone’s house or at school that I not only had to answer for it there…I had Hell to pay when I got home.

This guy is just another product of a system where not only are we not going to discipline our kids, no one else is going to be allowed to, either.  His attitude can only have developed and survived to his current age in a system where he has been allowed to walk out on every argument or disciplinary action and he is not alone.  I can’t even begin to tell you how many times I heard the phrase “no one else is going to discipline my child” in the last ten years of youth ministry.  That mindset has become pervasive and it is toxic.

It is essential that all of us learn to respect the rules of not only the greater community, but also those of other individuals and families.  My kids need to learn that the rules at your house are just important as the rules at mine and I definitely expect your kids to live by my rules while they are at my house.  This is what it truly means for a village to raise a child.  It is not some easy platitude, but rather an ethic and a value that forces examination of values and principles.

The problem comes when we try to shirk the responsibility of knowing the parents of the kids with whom our kids associate.  We get nervous that our kids will be subject to some set of rules that we don’t know, approve of, or trust.  The only solution to that is to get to know our fellow parents, to engage in dialogue, to actually be a community.

I strongly believe that how we treat people in our daily lives finds its foundation in how we were raised.  I can’t help but believe that the fact that I got a juvenile response from a forty-something man is firmly rooted in the lack of discipline that this man received from permissive parents.  Maybe if his parents had bothered to teach him to respect the rules of others, then I wouldn’t have had to write my email.  I only know that if I had ever given someone a “whatever” or an “I’m not going to read this” when I was growing up that the consequences would have been firm and lasting.

Discipline breeds respect.  Permissiveness breeds contempt.

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