By David Hegg
Several times during this political season I have often gone back to the saying that “all politics is local politics.” And while it may be bad grammar, it clearly is right thinking.
Too often we spend our energy arguing about the actions and character of politicians we’ll never meet and never change when the same interest locally could result in better neighborhoods, better schools and a better life for ourselves and our children. While it may be fun to chirp about our national situation, what we can really do something about is local.
I’d like to shift that popular statement just a bit and assert that “all ethics are really personal ethics.” While we may rant and rave about the indiscretions of our national politicians, athletes, movie stars and other notables, what really matters in the long run is the ethical integrity of our own lives.
It seems so easy for us to cry out against the dishonesty, duplicity, and foolishness of those in the national spotlight but extremely difficult to see that our lives may well be riddled with the same kind of ethical lapses.
No one likes hypocrisy except a hypocrite. Hypocrisy allows us to castigate in others what we are enjoying ourselves. In fact, it has often been the case that the loudest condemnations come from those whose closets are full of skeletons.
The ease with which we enumerate the faults of our national leaders while turning a blind eye to our own personal versions of those faults reminds me of a comedy routine I recently heard. The comedian was remarking on how ironic it was to sit in your car, cursing the traffic, when in reality you were part of that traffic!
It is right for us to insist that our leaders be honest, hard-working, fair, conscientious, courteous, moral, wise, courageous, and own any number of other laudable characteristics.
It is also right for us to hold them to an ethical standard that is both noble and consistent.
What isn’t right is to expect more of them than we do of ourselves. It is both wrong and foolish to curse the traffic when we are in it ourselves. What we demand of others must first be found in us.
Viewing ethics this way turns the popular model on its head. While we often assume that good things flow down from those at the top of the authority pyramid, it is actually the reverse. Morality that is authentically shaped by the values humanity has considered right and noble will not grow in the soil of legislation from above. Borrowed convictions just don’t last, no matter how rigidly they are impressed upon the soul.
The highest ethic is that set of core values that are handed down from generation to generation through the stories and principles of integrity, courage and faith. They nestle in the heart, are nourished into convictions by the water of truth, and grow into an uncompromising code of behavior that molds its bearer into a productive member of human society.
Simply put, ethical behavior doesn’t start in Sacramento or Washington, D.C. It starts in the home, in the arms of Mom and Dad. Ethical nourishment is as essential to the soul as milk is to the newborn.
If we really want to save our nation, we would do well to secure the home. After all, one day our kids will be in the spotlight, running the show, running the country. What they are then may well depend on what we give them now.
Local resident David Hegg is senior pastor of Grace Baptist Church. “Ethically Speaking” appears Sundays.