In my book, Raising Children That Other People Like to be Around, I outline the ingredients for having a happy family by using a handy mnemonic -- S.M.A.R.T. The letters stand for Set an Example, Make the Rules, Apply the Rules, Respect Yourself, and Teach in All Things.
Doing things for others is all part of setting an example. I'm a dad, and I do a lot of things every day that benefit others while not necessarily being my favorite things to do. But don't get me wrong: I can find the silver lining in driving a carpool at 8:00 a.m., I can sing my way through taking out the garbage, and I can even understand the value to myself and my community in paying taxes.
Unfortunately, when it comes to setting an even bigger example, our country seems to be heading in the "every man for himself" direction -- and that's really too bad, because I've spent years teaching my children that they're not the only people in the world. They need to care about each other and their neighbors, and they also need to know that they can't always do, or get, exactly what they want. How then do I explain that our government -- supposedly a model for reasoned discussion, discourse, and decision-making -lasik- has been brought to a halt by a group of adults who have decided to have a temper tantrum because they feel that the rules don't apply to them?
How do I explain that our elected lawmakers -- the people who are most obligated to believe in the rule of law, and to live within those rules -- are so unwilling to accept their duty that they are shutting down the government just to get their way? What kind of example is that?
From my fatherly point of view, that's like getting my family to agree that we will have no more ice cream in the house and then, while my wife and children are throwing out the cartons, threatening to set the house on fire because I didn't mean the Butter Pecan (my favorite) should go too (and then blaming them after I burn down the house)!
Not what I would call a very solid role model.
As the mechanism of leadership in my home is built on the reasonable and concerned examples that my wife and I provide, behavior like the Ice Cream Incident would shake the whole foundation (rule of law) of our family. "I thought we all agreed about the ice cream?" our kids would say to my wife. What would be her explanation? "I know, kids, but sometimes Daddy acts like a baby." (by the way -- this would NEVER happen in our family because we always present a united front, but, in this case it's the only explanation I'd think she could offer). Clearly, Daddy breaking the family rules shakes the family foundation, and in the long-run it really presents a problem.
Life with others is often about doing things we don't want to do. I don't often feel like rolling out the trash bins on Monday night -- but I do it because Tuesday is trash day. In the short run, it's no big deal. In the long run, my house becomes a haven for rodents and begins to stink up the whole neighborhood. (To say nothing of the fact that my wife and children would be long gone!)
Every man is not an island... at least not when we live in a democracy. Whether we like it or not, we have an obligation to those around us. It's not a short term thing, it's a big picture duty. We are responsible for each other, and it is sometime necessary for us as parents, or government leaders, to set that example by behaving accordingly.
Sometimes we've got to do what we don't want to do because it's better for everyone else. These times include: Paying taxes, obeying the law, getting vaccinations, jury duty, giving to charity, letting others go first, giving up our seat, returning the shopping cart, and much more. These simple acts are ways in which we let the world know that we are a people who care about each other -- that we are united -- just like members of a family have a duty to watch each other's backs.
It is shameful to me that many of our leaders have lost sight of this necessity, but it's a good opportunity to teach our children how not to behave.
Meanwhile, I've got to go put out my trash cans.