Leading Ethically Only is an educational outreach of Leadership Ethics Online (LEO). Essays range widely--from ethical analysis of the news, to ethical challenges to leaders in society, to personal reflections of an ethical nature. We welcome your thoughts and criticisms to make us better.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Bluegrass Values: Chapter 2, "Mom and Dad Loved Each Other, and Us"

Mom and Dad Loved Each Other, and Us

Life can be crazy. Many things can happen along the way. But the most basic, most important thing children need to see, need to learn, is that they are loved unconditionally by their parents. You cannot give what you do not have. But if you have been loved, and know what love means, then you can give love to others. I see this now.

The three Willis boys—Bruce, Robert, and me—grew up seeing how Mom and Dad loved each other and us. There never ever was one single day or night we had any doubt that our parents loved each other, and loved us. Human nature is such that when we experience the same thing all the time, we tend to take it for granted. So it took me many, many years for it finally to hit me, like a hammer on the head, how precious a gift it was to grow up every day of my life with the absolute certainty my brothers and I were loved unconditionally, fully, and sacrificially.

I put my parents love for each other, and my brothers and me, first in what I have to write because of what I have learned only in the last ten years of my life. This is not because my beloved Mother is dead, or because my beloved Father’s time on the earth is growing shorter. I always have loved my parents and told them so throughout my life.

Over the past ten years, I have studied aggressive behaviors, psychological disorders, and harmful and criminal behaviors. I have learned how many people never experience love from their parents, never have a stable home. I have learned how, when our basic emotional needs to be loved and cared for are neglected, or when we experience betrayal, fear, anxiety, and even harm, we naturally grow up to become dysfunctional people. We all have a natural, biological need to be nurtured and loved. But if that nature is not fed and shaped with love, or if our nature is warped and twisted by scary experiences, like a tender twig bent and twisted by storms and drought, we will grow up into bent and twisted adults.

Growing up on the farm, I look back now and see this basic lesson taught hundreds of ways. We helped those cows birth those calves, and watched them nurse and become stronger. Our cats had little kittens, and they squirmed, all warm in their beds, to feed on their mothers’ milk. We saw many bird nests over the years, with those bobbing little baby bird heads, chirping and waiting for their mothers to bring them worms and insects. I even have memories of mother spiders, with their scores of little newborns scurrying around. God’s creation confirmed every day the kind of life we Willis boys were experiencing: love, nurturing, dependence, growth, happiness.

Mom and Dad taught us boys to be gentle with our animals. Boys can be pranksters, but early on we were forbidden to taunt or mistreat any living creature on our farm. We were taught to respect them, care for them, and though the word was never used in our lessons, to love them.

Sometimes we would see someone else’s dog, or a stray, suspicious, snarling, barking, and rough-looking. We could tell the animal had been mistreated or allowed to run wild. Occasionally we visited other farmers on business. They were not our Dad. Their animals were filthy. I saw them hit hard their livestock with sticks to drive them, and they cursed as they did so. We learned early everyone was not like our Dad, and that many of God’s creatures had harder lives than on our farm.

My fellow Americans, I know most of you are suffering. I am suffering, but I will not tell you about that now. But in the midst of my suffering, there is one thing I know for sure. My parents experienced some tough times when I was growing up. There were times when they worried whether they would have enough money to pay the bills. But out of love for us kids, they never let their worries infect or warp their daily love and encouragement for us. They never got drunk. They never fought. They never yelled at us, unless we earned it! It would be years alter that we would hear of some of their toughest times and the pressures they faced.

Times are tough now, I know that. But as we struggle, as we hear more news of bad things happening, there is one thing we all can do. There is nothing stopping us from this. We can give the most important gift that will remain after we are gone. We can love our children and families, no matter what else is going on. We can do this. That is what I am doing. And no matter what has happened to you, if you let your suffering and pain stop you from giving what you can give, your love, ask God to help you get your priorities straight and put love in your heart so you will change, today.

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