Best selling business author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek is making a mint lately talking about his “golden circle.” In the outer ring is WHAT you do. The next ring in is HOW you do it. The bull’s eye target of his circle is the WHY. Why do you do what you do?
Sinek’s secret has even been making big buzz in the Ed biz among teachers hoping to motivate students to learn. Over 240 years ago in Philadelphia the founding fathers were also focused on why.
Lots of Social Studies and Government teachers point out to their students that the U.S. Constitution contains six principles including; popular sovereignty, federalism, separation of powers, checks-and-balances, judicial review and limited government.
These are vital to understanding the Constitution, but I’d argue that these six principles are the WHAT. The Preamble of the Constitution provides the WHY.
If you don’t have the 70’s School House Rock song memorized, you owe it to yourself to try. Why? (pun intended) Because the Preamble is our national Mission Statement.
You know how many businesses (usually motels and restaurants) hang a mission statement behind their from counters? Think of the Preamble as “Our Promise to our customers” or “Our pledge to you.” We the people can use the six principles found in the Preamble to hold our representatives accountable.
Everything we do as a country ought to align with these six goals. Always ask yourself if any given bill, law, program or policy promotes at least one of these six principles. Ask if anything our leaders do or promise impedes or prevents us from reaching any of these goals.
- Form a more Perfect Union
- Establish Justice
- Insure Domestic Tranquility
- Provide for the Common Defense
- Promote the General Welfare
- Secure the blessings of Liberty
It’s a short list. I bet ya could memorize it pretty easily. Because this is what the Constitution is all about, Charlie Brown!
These are the promises of out social contract, these are our shared-principles which make us one nation, since our nation (unlike others) isn’t based on common ethnicity or lineage. We don’t share bloodlines, we share principles. These are what we claim to fight for, not just fighting to show we’re the greatest or for something vague and unspecific like “our rights” or “freedom” or “our way of life.” These six principles are the she specific forms which rights and freedoms or “the American Way” take.
My hope is to have six more blog posts, one about each principle.
This morning the news was full of examples of inhumanity to man.
Two police officers were shot in their cars in the predawn hours in Des Moines. A Black church in Mississippi was torched and vandalized with “Vote Trump.” A YouTube Government teacher whom I follow on Twitter had a “troll” tell him to drink bleach because he was a “P.O.S.”
Admirably, the teacher responded with pity, telling the attacker that he thought it must be difficult to go through life with so much hate and anger.
All of these things reminded me of the simplest thing any of us ever learn; “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Treat others the way you want to be treated.
There are three simple things that many of us often overlook about this “Golden Rule.”
- UNIVERSALITY- While Jesus did say it in Luke 6:31 & Mark 12:29 (and I deeply love, am grateful for and try to be devoted to my Lord & Savior), He’s not the only one to teach it. I feel totally comfortable talking about it as a Public School teacher without violating the anti-establishment clause of the First Amendment because there is a version of the Golden Rule in virtually every major world religion AND most secular, agnostic, atheist, and humanist philosophers and psychologists also agree that it’s a great idea. It’s a universal principle that truly transcends sectarian and doctrinal differences.
- CIVILITY- It’s not just analogous to, but pretty much embodies the concept of Social Contract theory as expounded upon by Enlightenment thinkers and American “Founding Fathers” from Locke, Rousseau and Burke, to Jefferson, Madison and Martin Luther King Jr. An exchange of individual rights and privileges for responsibilities to shared principles as a member of community. Compromise. It is the very nature of constitution, covenant, compact- more perfect unity, domestic tranquility, general welfare, even justice itself depends upon the Golden Rule.
- IT REFLECTS OUR OWN PERSONAL SELF WORTH- Most of us (at least in our consumer-driven, materialistic, individualistic, Western, middle-class, White Anglo-Saxon, Protestant world) think of the Golden Rule as an if-then proposition. Mathematical, logical- “If I threat others the way I’d like to be treated, they (in response) SHOULD, ought to, if there is any justice in the universe, if God is doing His job right- they will then (as a result of my playing by the rules & doing the right thing) treat me well in return.
This often disappoints. People are selfish & greedy & inconsiderate. They don’t care about me, they’re only worried about themselves and their own interests. That’s human nature. It’s enough to make you become a Nihilist.
But what if we looked at it in a different way? What if I told you that how you treat others is a unconscious projection of how you believe that you deserve to be treated? What if, just maybe, the Golden Rule triggers the “Law of Attraction,” that principle that says that you get what you give, that what goes around comes around, that you reap what you sow?
What if, the way I treat others is sending them subliminal messages that that’s exactly how I expect to be treated? That subconsciously at least (even if I try to deny it consciously) but inside- if I disrespect you, it means that I don’t believe that I deserve respect? If I’m hostile toward you, it means that I have anger, contempt or self-loathing for myself? If I try to dominate or manipulate you- it actually means that I wish someone would exert control over me?
Does that shift in perspective make you question your own behavior?
Does it make you reconsider other people’s behavior?
Why would anyone ever call someone else a piece of defecated feces?
Remember the Golden Rule is:
- A REFLECTION OF YOUR SELF-WORTH
Most people know Franklin Roosevelt is famous for his line in his 1933 Inaugural Address, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself,” which he used to assuage our anxiety about the Great Depression, hoping to prevent financial panic.
But one of my favorite documents from American history is FDR’s 1941 State of the Union Address, where he once again addresses the nation’s rising anxiety levels, this time about the likely inevitability of WWII due to rising NAZI power & aggression.
I believe, especially with the ranker and rhetoric of intolerance, division, and security among Presidential candidates and Television punditry, FDR’s words are as applicable to the death cult of Da’esh (ISIL) and international terrorism as they were to the threat of fascism.
Plenty of people have already suggested that inflammatory rhetoric, and racist behavior (even latent) only serve as recruiting aids and catalysts for radicalization, but I contend that a proactive focus on positive principles will be more effective in diluting and defaming the power of terrorism than knee-jerk reactions of suspicion and hyper-nationalism.
Take a read, these words are as profound and poignant today as they ever were-
In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms.
The first is freedom of speech and expression–everywhere in the world.
The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way–everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want–which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants-everywhere in the world.
The fourth is freedom from fear–which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor–anywhere in the world.
That is no vision of a distant millennium. It is a definite basis for a kind of world attainable in our own time and generation. That kind of world is the very antithesis of the so-called new order of tyranny which the dictators seek to create with the crash of a bomb.
To that new order we oppose the greater conception–the moral order. A good society is able to face schemes of world domination and foreign revolutions alike without fear.
Since the beginning of our American history, we have been engaged in change–in a perpetual peaceful revolution–a revolution which goes on steadily, quietly adjusting itself to changing conditions–without the concentration camp or the quick-lime in the ditch. The world order which we seek is the cooperation of free countries, working together in a friendly, civilized society.
This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights and keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.
This may be very vain on my part, but when I am pleased with something I’ve written, I like to share it. The following are my responses to a discussion that’s part of a class I’m taking this Summer on Character Education. I’ve annotated it just a tad for this blog with additional comments which are italicized.
Differences between views, values and virtues.
I suspect that many teachers hope to engage students by having them explore and share views in class discussions. Politicians, parents and interest groups often want their values propagated in schools while vehemently opposing having students indoctrinated with “wrong” values. Unfortunately, I think all too often school districts and teachers have avoided instilling students with virtues because they mistakenly conflate them with “religious” values and therefore want to avoid controversy from the aforementioned parents and interest groups. The result has been a diminishing amount of virtues necessary for lifelong learning such as curiosity, persistence, courage and a general work-ethic. Not to mention virtues necessary for promoting a culture and climate safe for learning like compassion, empathy, and community.
Views may be perspective or paradigm. They determine how we perceive things and react to them. These are very subjective and personal.
Values are influenced by views. Values are what we deem important and are greatly determined by our culture, family, personal life experiences and the institutions we belong to. While they may be deeper, more stable and more widely shared than our views, they’re still very subjective. Like views, they aren’t necessarily constructive or productive, instead, they are constructed and produced. They are things we think we need to defend or stand up for, rather than things that help us to grow or progress.
A good synonym for Virtues might be disciplines because virtues aren’t just concepts you believe in like values, they are principles which you can proactively use to help determine your decisions, choices, and behaviors. They can help you pre-plan your reactions to potential scenarios. They also effect how others perceive you and present a “brand” or “stance” you hope to portray.
How they relate, or do not relate, to educational success, living well, mastering 21st Century Skills
Being virtuous involves intellectual authenticity. Virtues are active processes. Angela Maiers might argue that they are taking positive attitudes toward learning and developing them into habits that help you learn. Carol Dweck might say that they being virtuous is being willing to work and grow, no matter how often you fail. William Glasser might say its the difference between being responsible and irresponsible, or between being negative and reactive or being positive and proactive. Civic, financial, and technological literacy and being healthy and employable all demand that students be actively engaged and deliberate and committed and disciplined, rather than passively receiving information or being entertained.
Views and values certainly have a place in learning. They’re useful for exposing students to the marketplace of ideas and to exploring you own feelings and ideas, but without virtues, they may be somewhat superficial or reactionary at best and inflammatory at worst.
Creating a foundation of deeper meaning.
Woodrow Wilson once said, ” When I think of the flag…. I see alternate strips of parchment upon which are written the rights of liberty and justice, and stripes of blood to vindicate those rights, and then, in the corner, a prediction of the blue serene into which every nation may swim which stands for these great things.”
It’s not just a matter of “being deep” or having poetry in one’s soul. It is a matter of comprehension and application; being able to genuinely understand learning and proactively, deliberately apply it, rather than just casually being exposed to, passively acknowledging it or emotionally reacting to it.
At the risk of sounding too much like a Social Studies teacher- it’s the difference between hearing the Gettysburg Address as “yadda yadda yadda, blah blah, blah… of the people, by the people, for the people, etc. etc.” and hearing it and thinking, “wow, how dedicated and committed am I (are we) to the unfinished work which they so nobly advanced there 150 years ago? How can I (we) dedicate myself (ourselves) to the principles of equality and liberty so that those who gave their last full measure of devotion might not have died in vain?” That’s how important I think that virtues are to creating meaning in one’s life.
Views are how we respond to circumstances. Values are what we’ve been raised to think of as important and worth defending. But virtue provides us with purpose and direction. I think both Victor Frankl and Rick Warren could agree on this.