January 31, 1995
“From the day your baby is born, you must teach him to do things. Children today love luxury too much. They have detestable manners, flout authority, have no respect for their elders. They no longer rise when their parents and teachers enter the room. What kind of awful creatures will they be when they grow up?”
A quote from a modern psychologist? or a Junior high school teacher? or a disgruntled mother? None of the above. Socrates (a Greek philosopher who believed doubt was essential to discovering truth) said it in 399 B.C.
Nothing has changed. Children still must be taught manners, respect and how to do things. In contrast, awful behavior has psychologists and philosophers arguing. Can the blame for it be put on nature/genetics or nurture/environment?
Certainly most of them agree that genetics are the cause of eye, hair and skin color and even the predisposition to certain diseases; however, environment and training are powerful factors that also influence the way people think and live.
As they argue, many experts ignore two other reasons for bad behavior. One is the human ability to make choices. Even though they will not remove genetic flaws like deformities, or erase bad experiences, good choices can help people overcome both. We can decide to make the best of a bad thing, profit from it and go on to reach our goals.
Concerning behavior, making choices requires taking responsibility for the way things are. If someone realizes they are rude, greedy, or selfish, taking responsibility for their actions sets them free to choose other options. Anyone who continues to willfully do wrong and at the same time blames poor parenting or a bad background is irresponsible. Unfortunately, “choices” and “responsibility” are not popular terms these days. Society prefers “dysfunctional” and “abused.”
Another reason for bad behavior is connected to a doubted, and almost completely rejected, biblical principle. According to this principle, children and everyone else has an incredible tendency to love luxury, disobey authority, and fail to respect other people. It is called the sin principle.
Sin is not a popular topic but it is real. Sin is God’s terminology for the bad things people do. It is also His explanation for why those bad things happen. We do sinful things because there is sin in us. This is the sin principle.
Sin means that by nature, we fall short of the Godlikeness we were intended to reflect. Sin expresses itself in actions ranging from fibs to rape and murder. No matter the extent or damage done by sin’s expression, the Bible says “all have sinned...” and “there is no one that does good”... all have sin in them.
Socrates thought the solution was education, but even educated people can know beyond a doubt something is wrong and still do it. He also suggested loving luxury was an issue, but even a happy pagan in a loin cloth sins. Desiring the finer things can encourage evil but taking luxury away will not necessarily drive anyone to do good.
Proper teaching, respect for authority, and contentment without luxury are virtues that we may choose, but no matter how much we desire them, they are elusive. The sin principle is always at work.
The Bible says we need to take personal responsibility for our own sin. When we do, God’s remedy is a relationship of faith and trust in Him. Without this relationship, we will doubt God and take matters into our own hands. Sin will then multiply and those “awful creatures” Socrates talked about will always be a problem.