Misplaced virtue

Joey Garcia

My gated townhouse community was serene until a single mom moved in with her 10-year-old son. She borrowed money from one neighbor and won’t pay it back. When her car was repossessed, another neighbor lent her one. When I caught her son yanking tulips out of my yard, he said he had permission from my husband to “weed” (a lie). Later, his mother accused me of attacking her son and pulling the tulips out myself. Now the boy has damaged the loaner car with a borrowed hammer. The mother claims it was vandals. I feel sorry for this boy having a mother who won’t take responsibility. Some neighbors want to start a fund so he can attend a Christian school and learn values. What do you think?

Your good intentions are misdirected. Trauma or stress or a personality disorder has driven this mom to protect herself and her son from reality. As a result, her son is in crisis. He hasn’t yet learned how to express anger in a healthy way. When he destroys other people’s property, he faces no consequences. Sending the boy to a school that teaches Christian values could cause more trouble. As he learns new values at school, he will have to choose between loyalty to the school’s values or loyalty to his mother. Who do you think will win?

Christianity (or any other religion) is not magic. It’s superstitious to believe that attending a Christian school automatically initiates a change of heart. Integrating values into one’s life can be challenging, humbling and painful. A religious school offers community and change is easier within a supportive circle. But don’t be naïve—some students, teachers and staff won’t exemplify your values. After all, even Christians can’t agree on what Christian values are. But most citizens of the world can agree on the qualities of a good person. And those qualities are informed by our view of people transformed through religion or spirituality. (See what I did there?)

Honesty is a universally acknowledged value. Let me attempt it here: You’re avoiding responsibility. Every child is our child. Every adult is a brother or sister. If I caught a child destroying flowers, I’d say he had to pay for the damage, but could work it off by helping me garden. If his mother accused me of verbally attacking him, and I didn’t, I would say he must be scared to tell the truth and ask how she and I could work together to help him be honest. Be clear—I’m not saying that I could flip a switch in the mother’s heart. I’m choosing to be honest despite her drama. And that brings me to this: Your neighborhood is colluding to harm this boy and his mother. She asks to borrow money? Set terms in writing for repayment and get it notarized. She asks to borrow a car? Set terms in writing, get it notarized, inform your insurance agent, etc. Show her how to be responsible by being responsible. Send him to a Christian school after you create a community that reinforces the values you want him to live.

Meditation of the week
“Honesty is the fastest way to prevent a mistake from turning into a failure,” wrote James Altucher. How naked is your heart?

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