The need for role models
We mentioned about the need for a good environment, a suitable place where to build our nation. This environment is provided to the youth by their elders. In more concrete terms, by their good example. A friend told me that the general lack of commitment among young people these days may be attributed to a lack of role models of commitment among the older ones.
It is quite evident that there are more and more children coming from broken families- another effect of the aberrant lifestyles promoted by the media. Young people are afraid to commit because they may end up having a failed marital life. This could stem from a lack of understanding of love. One of the articles in Chapter 4 entitled “I would rather” talks about this. How many among the youth understand love as giving one’s entire self to the loved one up to the point of sacrifice?
Let me discuss a bit then about my favorite topic: love. What is being presented to us by media is that love is merely sensual pleasure, feelings. As mentioned in that article on love in Chapter 4, love is more in the will than in feelings. Feelings may be strong for a time but if they are the only basis for love, they will not survive a lifelong relationship. As what a line from a popular song goes, “feelings, nothing more than feelings.” Look at couples who want to break away when they do not feel like it anymore. The problem is that many of our public figures either are divorced, have extramarital relationships, are “living-in,” or have homosexual partners. The problem is that these lifestyles are being promoted not just subliminally as before but in a more aggressive way through shows and films.
I am not trying to put down people in these situations. I pray they change their ways and correct their relationships in order for them to live better, happy lives. I always believe in the capacity of people to change for the better, to change for that which will perfect their humanity, although it may take a lot of effort. As I always tell my students: we should not condemn people because they could still change, although we may get mad for their actions which had been done and could not be changed anymore. My major concern is that young people are very much affected by this. They are presented with situations at an age where they could not discern yet what is right from wrong. With these, they are encouraged to “try things out” and without proper guidance, they end up destroying the integrity of their moral life. They become calloused and desensitized to these aberrant lifestyles up to the point of justifying them, instead of correcting them. And the rest of the story follows. Several broken families, children with no moral guides, etc.
Perhaps many would agree with me to call parents as domestic moral leaders. However, if parents themselves- and we are seeing a lot more of them now- do not have a strong sense of virtue and a real understanding of love, how could they command respect and authority in teaching their children these values? Hence, we need also some sort of parent education. More and more, parents are coming from those who grew up under the sexual revolution when all these confusions on human sexuality arose. And if they did not get the right education in these matters, it will be difficult for them to transmit the proper values to their children. There are some initiatives now on parent training I heard of like EDUCHILD where parents learn how to be good spouses and domestic leaders to their children starting with the example of their lives. One of the articles in Chapter 4 on “Table manners for the home” came from a world-renowned figure on parenting, James B. Stenson, whose articles could be downloaded from his website (www.parentleadership.com).
If the domestic moral leaders are doing their job very well, my experience in dealing with university students for the past ten years says that the children are saved by whatever bad influence they may encounter along the way. In case they get affected, they will most likely recover with a little reminder of basic moral principles which they knew by heart because they have grown with them. I got reminded of this when one day my sister told me that she revived the practice of praying the Rosary everyday with her children. She said that she wanted her children to have a good memory of their childhood piety so that in case they go astray in their old age, they would have a good memory to go back to and reform their lives once again. A friend told me a similar thing. He said that what brought him back to wanting to lead a good life is his basic values education and basic catechism which he learned in elementary school. He is afraid that the current neglect of these basics of life may bring a lot of despair to people in the future because they do not have any good thing or memory to return to.
After the family, a major concern on the need for role models is teachers. Hardly have I heard a top student dreaming of becoming a teacher, most especially a primary school teacher. Also, very few boys ever dream of becoming a teacher unless there is no other choice. And the result? An educational system wanting competent teachers and male models! I am not making a hasty generalization here. I am sure there are many competent teachers around in our primary and high school educational system. I am afraid they are concentrated in some specialized and private schools. It seems that the teaching profession is not highly built up as a career, aside from the low salary the profession connotes especially in public schools. If one is competent, he will be offered other things and he may end up going to a higher paying job. One really has to be dedicated in his work and has other means of financial support in order to survive in this career, especially when offered a greener “financial” pasture.
I suggest that our teachers also analyze the foundation they have- if they really strive for excellence in their work, if they strive to live the virtues and have faith in God. You cannot teach what you do not have. You could be a phony but only for a while.Teachers do not have a choice but to be good examples to their students. A good teacher will attract so many students around him and influence them positively. And so it is true for a bad teacher.
Teachers have to be moral leaders. What do you expect a teacher who has questionable morals to say in class? Competence in one’s field is not enough for a teacher because students do not only “study” what he teaches but they also learn from the example of his life. How many students started to masturbate because their high school teachers encouraged them to do so even specifying the frequency? I have heard that from students coming from different schools, even Catholic schools. And it is ironic that a teacher like me from a public school is saying that it is wrong to masturbate. I could not argue from a religious point of view because I do not come from a sectarian school. My arguments are purely human, biological. Your body tends to look for something it has done before. And if you keep on doing it, just like the virtues we discussed above, the body gets used to it up to such point that it becomes a habit. It does not end there, actions are preceded by thoughts, imagination, memory- the internal senses. And they are also followed by the same internal senses- imagination, memory. That is why those who engage so much in pornography, normally develop a habit of self-abuse or self-gratification (lighter terms for masturbation). If you do not cut the habit, it will become very much part of you and you start thinking that everybody is doing it, that it is a normal thing. And you create a fantasy world around you. If you could not discipline yourself now, how would you be able to practice self-mastery in marriage?
Yes, even if many of your friends do it. The moral value of an action is never reduced by a majority doing the contrary. I always remember a story about this with my students. One day, they were asking me to consider an answer in their exam (let’s say letter B instead of the correct answer A) because majority answered B. I told them that I may consider making that question in the exam a bonus (i.e., it will be discarded) but I can never make the answer B if it is A, i.e., I can never change the correct answer to suit or please the majority. If majority of our government officials are corrupt, it does not make dishonesty correct. But how many of our countrymen think this way on moral issues?
Having mentioned friends, one of my favorite topics in my dialogues with young people is friendship. One could see their interest everytime this topic is opened. Why do we talk about friendship under the heading on role models? In ending my talks to young people, I would always stress the need for role models among our elders. As I tried forming students to give similar seminars, I realized that young people themselves could be role models to their fellow youth, and they could be very effective because their audience could relate to them very well, they “connect” easily.
Pondering upon this reality, I realized that the lack of role models among our elders could be supplemented not only by role models among the youth but also by any authentic friendship. What do I mean? It seems to me that friendship is mistaken by some people for being accomplices. A true friend is one’s other self. You give your life to your friend and he gives his to you in such a way that you share a “common life.” And this life is something you have to defend from whatever may be harmful to it, i.e., whatever may be harmful to your friend and to yours. This is why when your friend is doing what is wrong, you have the obligation to tell him, not only because you are concerned with him but also because you want to keep intact that “common life” you share. And sometimes, to correct one’s friend is not that easy. But it you do it out of love for one’s friend, one of real concern for his good, it may be difficult but you would do it nonetheless. Here you find great wisdom in these words from the Holy Book: no greater love than this that a man lay down his life for his friends. Correcting out of love and affection is one of the articles in Chapter 4 that you may want to read to supplement this discussion.
If you see your friend doing something wrong and you do not correct him, you could not sincerely say that you are his friend.To love one’s friend is to want what is best for him. What is best for him can never be evil or that wrong deed. You may think it will appease him for a moment (e.g., taking drugs) but you do not help him see the evil it will bring him in the long run.
What is worse is when you do bad things together (e.g., watch pornographic films). That is not friendship at all but being accomplices. True friendship is always geared towards the truth and the good.
This love of friendship may take some sacrifice or even a lot of it. But it does not matter for someone who values real, authentic friendship. Love is tested in difficulties like any other human love. And as what I mentioned earlier, difficulties should only make us stronger, including our relationships. Misunderstandings may arise and may dampen friendship for awhile. But I guess they are needed. Because it is when some petty quarrels arise when one’s loyalty to one’s friend is tested. Loyalty is a virtue and like any other virtue, it is tested in adverse moments. A loyal friend will not tell everyone about your ‘secrets’ the moment a difficulty arises. He won’t make your quarrels public. You may be at odds at the moment and he may not like you for something you have done. But a loyal friend keeps his inner respect on you, not stabbing you at your back. And when the emotions have gone down, he would speak to you again, admit his mistake, tell you yours and will settle things together. I tell you, your friendship will never be as stronger as before after that!
This loyalty is translated to fidelity in marriage. How many young people are distraught and insecure because of their parents’ unstable relationships! That is why we advocate marriage between a man and woman, the natural institution where a child could be best nurtured and helped to mature until he is ready to face his “own” life. As I mentioned earlier, we are now suffering the effects of the sexual revolution of the 60’s. Those who were born during that time are now having their own families. Many of them are now the ones providing us entertainment in all media ventures. And what do we get? A lot of talk about sex and little on virtue. And the effect? Again, so much promiscuity which result to failed marriages. It is because infidelity is now sown even before marriage. Young people are enticed to try having sex even just with anyone before getting married. One’s intimacy is breached and when that intimacy, the person’s inner core, is destroyed, it leads to a lot of shameless acts many times in one’s private life and worse, even in public. If these are not corrected, one would start to justify them and even take pride in having such shameful lifestyle, as what the Holy Book said about them: they glory in their own shame.
Hence, there is no training on fidelity where one could build upon when one gets involved in premarital sex. Couples start having children without having had the minimum level of maturity to think of the others. James Stenson said that maturity is measured when one starts helping the others, not when one starts to stand on one’s own feet. He argued that a toddler may start doing things by himself but he is not yet mature. A sign of maturity is when a child starts helping his brothers and sisters. Hence, one needs a minimum level of maturity to be assured of one’s fidelity in a relationship. A couple has to start thinking not of themselves alone but of the welfare of their family. I would like to shout at the ears of many young couples: stop acting like kids, you already have kids! With my decade of experience dealing with students, I could truly say that there is no substitute to a strong, faithful and pious family. Children start comparing themselves with other children. And the child who was born out of wedlock always has that certain sense of insecurity which he may admit or try to cover up by doing other things, sometimes bad ones. That is how he tries to get the attention he lacks from having a single parent, or worse, no parent at all to attend to him. Only if that missing parent was just mature enough and forgot thinking of himself or stopped acting like a kid for the sake of his child! There are, however, exceptional children who are gifted (and worked hard for it) with maturity at an early age who are able to handle life in a normal way in spite of their parents’ irregular relationship.
We could then say that we should not look for role models too far. Our domestic moral leaders are just at home- our parents. If they do not live up to this duty, let us remind them, and why not, help them. Then our teachers who could be very influential to our lives and we hope that their influence is for the good. Our political leaders have to defend and protect the sanctity of our families and the welfare of our teachers, so that the profession of touching the lives of others will become more attractive to many of our outstanding youth. Then finally, our friendships- we have to be role models among our friends and help them defend and protect the integrity of the “common life” we share together.