Knowing the Difference Between Right and Wrong

If we don't commit to living by a moral code, we are compromising our individual and community integrity. The Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and the two great commandments are relevant guides today!

By Amy Sparkman

Categories: Family

How would our children respond to questions about right and wrong? Would they stand firmly on the spiritual and moral foundation that we, their parents, have given them? Would they turn to the Ten Commandments for guidance? Would they take the time to wrestle with hard moral issues the way Jesus did, when he was tempted by the devil?

Today, young people are educated in school and among their peers to be tolerant of everyone and everything. Inevitably, they come to believe that they have the right to act based on how they're feeling at any given moment. In essence, young adults have been given the go-ahead to justify anything they do. For instance, a recent survey shows that young people are not offended by vulgar language on the internet because they don't believe anyone "really means anything by it"—it's just part of today's culture—"it's no big deal." Another recent study indicates that young people don't recognize a moral issue when it arises, much less the need for a moral framework. They agree that rape and murder are wrong, but beyond that, they waffle and defer their right to hold a contrary opinion. They don't see cheating on a test or on a significant other as a moral concern. Rather, it's the other person's issue to work out—it's no business of theirs to get involved with or care about. More and more young people make decisions without regard for others or for the community at large. This kind of individualism is rattling the framework of society, and vastly changing our interactions and relationships.

So, what are the kinds of issues our children face today? Consider these scenarios for starters, and then add your own—NOT to feel discouraged, but to uncover the subtle serpent of mainstream thinking and acting—and so you can be well-informed in order to more effectively fight back. Imagine a scenario that involves:

  1. copying someone's homework because you'll be showing disrespect for the teacher if you don't have it done
  2. cheating on a test
  3. reading Sparknotes instead of the book
  4. withholding some of the facts of a story when talking to parents
  5. taking something that doesn't belong to you, without asking or paying for it, because it's something that wouldn't be missed
  6. borrowing a few words from a book or article without giving credit
  7. teasing or taunting
  8. talking behind someone's back
  9. gossiping or embellishing a story
  10. resisting authority and disrespecting authority figures

These situations—and innumerable others!—are everyday occurrences. And, they should cause our young people to think before they act. Even more importantly, they require all of us to first establish, and then live by, a moral code. If we don't have a moral code or haven't committed to living by one, we are compromising our individual and community integrity.

The studies mentioned above point the finger of blame at the adult members of these young people's lives—especially at you and me, the parents. So, what are we — can we—do about it? In fact, we have exactly what we need to regroup and redirect the individual (and society!): we have the Ten Commandments, the Golden Rule, and the two great commandments.

Let's dig into these timeless guidelines and discover their relevance in our lives and world today. Let's refuse to believe they are outdated and narrow-minded. Let's work with our children to recognize a moral dilemma, and solve it through the lens of a strong moral code. Let's refuse to buy into the trend of wishy-washy reasoning that's trying to justify the crumbling of that code and ultimately, our society.

One way to start is to draw up a list of the Ten Commandments on poster-sized sticky-note paper with space to write beneath each one. Hang these sticky-notes where family members can see them and write on them. Invite everyone to think of ways that each commandment relates to life in general, and then to their lives specifically. Turn each commandment into a question: For instance, how do I/others take God's name in vain? How do I/others commit adultery? How do I/others covet? Invite the family to add an example every day. The first few examples will be obvious and easy. Eventually, the more subtle ways we break a commandment will become evident, which will lead to helpful, enlightening discussions. Children will start to see things from a different perspective, and it might be surprising to learn how the parents break a commandment or two!

As ideas begin to flow, collect a few of them for the purpose of discussing why it's essential we change our ways and align ourselves to live by these commandments. In essence, the first five commandments set forth our duty to God, and the last five guide us in our relationships with our family and neighbors. Now, let's move on to the broader Golden Rule, and do the same exercise.

The capstone of this family project is to look closely at the two great commandments—the guiding light for our lives. We need to put God first and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. This establishes every thought and action on a crystal clear and lasting moral code that protects the integrity of all our interactions and relationships. What's more, these two commandments, given to us by Jesus in the New Testament, stem from the Old Testament law in Deuteronomy and Leviticus. They are a perfect example of timeless relevance. Acknowledging the eternal relevance of these laws enables us to build our lives on solid, moral ground—to know right from wrong, and to boldly, courageously, stand for what's right.