Who am I and what makes me who I am?  This is a question as old as humanity itself but is still as relevant as ever for our young people today.  

External characteristics define us to a certain extent, but society tells us that that we can and should continuously re-invent our outward appearance.  Western cultures provide a wide array of products and services to allow us to redefine ourselves, from hair dyes to steroids to tattoos to colored contacts to plastic surgery.  The challenge with playing the game is that styles and fads come and go, so a body shape or body accessory or a lifestyle that is popular today will most likely be thrown out and replaced five years from now.  Additionally, if we fully commit to the game to impress the Joneses, we will lose respect for ourselves and those characteristics that make us uniquely and wonderfully ourselves. 

We do not have to look far to see the devastating effects this process is having on our young people.  No longer is fashion the only driving force behind our students’ need to fit in.  With the advent of phones and social media came ‘influencers’ who, as a friend once told me, “are popular because they are popular”.  With an insatiable need for power and money, these ‘influencers’ promote strange and dangerous trends with no regard for the well-being of the children or young adults; in turn, our children view these ‘influencers’ as their ticket to the in-crowd.  Whatever feels good at the moment is definitely what you should do, even if that change is permanent and life changing.

Are our young people happier now?  If only.  As any conscious person in this country knows, anxiety is through the roof, suicides are skyrocketing, serious drug abuse is rampant and sexual deviance of every kind is on the rise.

But these influencers are not the problem in our world; they are just a natural symptom of and by-product of our collective loss of who we are as a people.  Who am I and what makes me uniquely me (on the inside) is a question we all need to be asking ourselves; we then need to allow that understanding to guide our lives. 

So where do we start.  Mike and I and our family look to God to answer that question, as so many generations before us have.  We know that we were made in the image and likeness of God and that we were made on purpose for a purpose.  Our physical features, our personalities, our talents and passions are not random happenings that can or should be changed; on the contrary, they should be celebrated and used for his glory.

Unfortunately, our human condition brings with it a fallen nature and a battle against darkness.  Again, God gives us the path to follow; do not lie, treat your neighbor as yourself, a life well-lived is one that is sacrificed for others, do not kill, keep holy the Sabbath, do not commit adultery, etc. etc.  As we are all weak, we live up to these ideals much better on some days than others; however, we can always go back to God for forgiveness and begin again. 

So, what if God is not your thing.  How do individuals create for themselves an internal set of morals or beliefs that will serve them well throughout their lives, regardless what the world around them is saying or doing?  You certainly can use the ten commandments as your starting point, because in spite of the arrogance of the current generation, human nature has not changed one bit over the past 4000+ years.  Begin by asking questions.  Is truthfulness important to me, and do I expect truthfulness from those around me?  If so, then work hard to be truthful in all your dealings, whether public or private.  Beyond that, do your homework.  Research the important topics of our day and find the Truth.  Do you believe that human life begins at conception, when the baby is born, or at some point in between? Do you believe that humans are primarily good or primarily evil?  Do you believe that your purpose on earth is for pleasure and gain, or to care for and support others?  Is your belief based on facts / wisdom, or convenience? 

What we don’t do is look to wealthy corporations, or the government, or to social media influencers to define our moral compass.  The moral compass they provide spins in circles and stops only occasionally to point them to more money and more power.  A handful of years ago, social influencers told us that we couldn’t pray in public – now they are telling us that we must pray for an injured athlete.  Two years ago, the NFL made a marketing decision that the United States and its military were irreconcilably broken – today the NFL has kicked off a new marketing strategy celebrating the United States and the military. 

You and your children can be people of integrity with a strong moral compass.  Talk with mentors you know who seem to be whole and at peace and get their opinion.  Use the internet to sort through all the powerful voices and listen for the quiet Truth.  Pray if you are so inclined.  When you make that thought-filled determination on a particular issue or virtue, leaving aside your personal bias, then you are obligated to be true to that Truth – every day.

One additional note.  Some will say that all that is needed is for people to be to be kind and support others in whatever makes them happy.  Although it sounds nice, this concept is lazy and dangerous.  If your daughter was upset that one of her feet was bigger than the other and asked if she could have her left foot removed to make her happy, you certainly would not oblige.  Some choices are good and some are not, and the vast majority of right and wrong is based on Truth, not personal opinion. 

Mike and a couple of the boys have been watching the Hobbit / Lord of the Rings movies recently, and he shared with me a quote that speaks to integrity.  In the movie, The Hobbit, An Unexpected Journey, Gandalf the Wizard is asked by the Elf Princess why he brought Bilbo Baggins (small, defenseless, but steadfast and determined) along with him on his dangerous journey.  Gandalf replies, “Saruman believes it is only great power that can hold evil in check, but that is not what I have found.  It is the small everyday deeds of ordinary folk that keep the darkness at bay.  Small acts of kindness and love.  Why Bilbo Baggins?  Perhaps because I am afraid, and he gives me courage.” 

May we and our children all work hard to discover our north star and then be unwavering in our commitment to our consciences, even in the small everyday deeds.  We will then be influencers in our families and communities and provide courage to others in a world that desperately needs clarity and strength.