“A life devoted to things is a dead life, a stump; a God-shaped life is a flourishing tree” – Proverbs 11:28
Values drive behavior. What we decide is most important in life will control and direct us. Jesus said it best: “Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart’s going to be.” It follows then that nothing is more important to a leader’s effectiveness than values, and that makes where we find our values critical.
Surveys indicate that as many as 80% of Americans believe that our society’s values are in transition, that in fact our culture is suffering a morals meltdown. Ya think maybe this perception has anything to do with the fact that for years now there’s been an explosive growth of Hollywood’s endorsement of infidelity and divorce as the norm, of internet smut, of “the ends justify the means” politics, of an entitlement mentality, of “just make sure it doesn’t make the papers” business ethics, etc.?
What’s triggered this crisis of moral decline? I’d like to suggest that the genesis of the problem can be summed up in two words: truth decay. Mainstream America today values feelings over truth. For example, you may remember that in 2006, when James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces was exposed as a literary fraud, there was a public outcry from Oprah and others defending Frey as an “emotional truth-teller,” whatever that means. Many in our society today would say, “If something makes me feel good, I don’t care whether it’s true or not.”
This is a major shift in thinking in America over the last seventy years. The generation that fought World War II generally agreed on what was true – what was right and what was wrong. But today, nothing stirs up trouble like somebody saying, “This is true, and that’s wrong.” What happened?
Relativism happened. Relativism says what’s truth for you isn’t necessarily truth for me. Though defying logic, this philosophy has our culture by the jugular, as the dominance today of relativism’s supreme value, tolerance, clearly demonstrates. Our society values tolerance over truth, which is why we don’t want to say the truth. We might offend somebody, thereby committing the worst of all possible sins.
Due largely to relativism, what once was called right in America is now called wrong, and vice versa. Remember when as school kids we were challenged by the apocryphal story of George Washington and the cherry tree to always tell the truth? Studies today reveal that up to 95% of high-school students feel that the pressure to get ahead justifies cheating. Nowadays, pornographers are nominated for academy awards while a first-grade boy who kisses a little girl is accused of sexual harassment. Go figure! Hence the question, how can I live a life of value in a world that can’t decide what’s right and what’s wrong?
What values “should” drive my behavior? Values derive from only three possible sources: One, I can get my values from an internal source. That‘s where I say, “My values are based on me, because I know so much. I will decide if something is right or wrong according to how it feels.”
Two, I can determine to get my values from an external source: “I’ll listen to talk shows and watch the polls, and I’ll ignore the fact that the culture’s values, confused by self-interest, social conditioning and situational ethics, are shallow and subjective.
Three, I can turn to the eternal source: “I choose God’s values because he’s the creator and therefore the measure of truth.”
According to Proverbs 11:28, while values derived from choice three inspire behaviors that lead to a life of fruitfulness and vitality, those stemming from choices one and two drive behaviors that lead to deadness: fruitlessness and ruin. At one time or another I’ve drawn my values from all three of these possible sources. My experience, hands down, is that, just as the Bible declares, choice-three values yield far better results.
Dr. Jim Furr