Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Who Teaches Ethical Principles?

(my latest post on the Faithblender blog)

I’m a Rabbi, and I’ve spent a lifetime studying books about ethics and values. And don’t get me wrong, book learning is important; but that’s not the way we teach children about ethics.  In the end, the most influential teaching about ethics comes from what children observe others doing, because without question, our children learn their values from their role models.

Good role models are hard to come by, and that’s a problem. Today’s heroes are a lot different than those of yesteryear.  And that’s a tragedy.

Today’s role models are celebrities. Celebrities are trendsetters. Young girls dress in the style of their favorite pop divas, while their parents dream of a flashy and fancy Hollywood lifestyle.

Role models are important because they represent our highest aspirations. The Mishna tells us that everyone should have a teacher, a person they look up to as a role model of knowledge and character. You can tell a person’s character by who their heroes are.

But heroes aren’t what they used to be. Old fashioned heroes like the fireman, the soldier and the cop, people who risk their lives for the general good, now live anonymous and humble lives, forgotten by everyone else. Today’s hero wears sunglasses, drives a Ferrari, and is talking on a cellphone with his agent.

Celebrities, our new heroes, are poor role models. Many are often “in and out”; in and out of rehab, in and out of marriage, in and out of court. However, their sins are quickly dismissed by pliant doctors, judges, and therapists, all in time for them to return to their adoring fans. Honest redemption and sacrifice are for the movies; in real life, celebrity fame and fortune is all that matters.

A society follows its role models. If our heroes are shallow and superficial, then it won’t be long before the rest of are wearing designer shades, searching for a new car, a new look and a new spouse.

That’s why it’s our job, as parents and teachers, to be true role models. When we cut in line at the supermarket, young eyes are watching; when we curse on the phone, little ears are taking note. In a world without role models, it’s time that we become role models, and show our children the right way.

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