We say we’re trying to raise kids who are kind, who help others, who are generous, who are not selfish, who are not cruel, who treat everyone equally, who hold themselves to high ethical standards. We say that virtue, that doing what’s right is more important than anything else, than money or success or getting ahead.
But what do we show? What do we show?
“Our children see this and learn to imitate it,” Thomas Jefferson wrote of slavery back in 1787. “The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst passions, and thus nurses, educated, and daily exercises in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities. The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals un-depraved by such circumstances.”
He knew that the institution was not only unjust but that it was a bad influence on his children. He said this…while he was having illegitimate children with one of his slaves! It’s an astounding bit of hypocrisy that is astounding only in the sense that he was willing to commit it to print (on the same page where he said his famous line about trembling for his country because he knew it would one day pay for his sins).
But the reality is we are not that much better than Jefferson. All those values mentioned above–fairness, kindness, honesty, doing the right thing no matter the cost–how aligned are your political and economic decisions truly with those ideals? You don’t ever let the allure of low taxes affect your judgment? You don’t push from your mind how that cheap t-shirt you’re wearing was made? How do you treat your assistant? What kind of impact is your industry having on the environment?
We tell our children certain things are important. But do our choices, our lifestyles, our careers, make the same statement? Or have we been corrupted? Are we corrupting our kids?