Adults need willpower to change behavior

We've had a spat of adults acting badly lately, and it is time it stopped.

The most recent incident involved high school teachers in the Bluegrass whose disagreement landed one of them in jail and both of them out of the classroom.

We've had a rapper yanking glory from a true winner, a U.S. congressman yelling out during a presidential speech, angry attendees at health care meetings shouting down everyone else and fans being tossed out of games because of their lack of decorum.

What is going on here? How did we allow our behavior to get this ugly?

In my church, there are several mature members who try to keep the rest of us in line and on point when it comes to expectations and doing what is right.

One of them is Stella A. Marshall who, at 83, dispenses wisdom as easily as some people spread germs. She doesn't have a degree in psychology, just in life.

I asked her why we adults behave so badly.

"I think we have just lost respect for each other. We are a selfish generation," she said.

Marshall said she was raised in a single parent household in Maysville, Ky. Her mother died in her 40s after giving birth to 13 children, of which she was No. 11. Her father, Eli Lewis, raised six children alone.

"He always instilled in us that a good name is all you have," Marshall said. "He always said let your name be that which people judge you by."

But the unseemly behavior that concerns me is occurring in adults, not children. We expect children to need correction. We assume adults, the ones in charge of teaching young impressionable children, have learned their lessons. We should be the ones setting better examples.

"It is just that we are going to have to learn how to respect each other's thoughts," Marshall said. "I may not agree with you, but we can disagree in a more civil manner."

There was a time when honesty and integrity were highly valued. People knew that shouts and upstaging and confrontations reflected badly on your upbringing. You were not only embarrassing yourself, but also your parents and other family members.

There was a sense of connectivity and accountability that doesn't hold much sway any more. Do we think of how our children view us when they see us behaving worse than they do?

"People have got to realize we are not living in this world on our own," Marshall said. "There is a higher entity than we want to admit to."

For Marshall, that higher entity is Jesus Christ. When we believe we are only a small part of something bigger, we will behave better. Maybe it is the family name. Maybe it is a community.

"People need to think before they speak," she said.

Marshall said among other jobs she has held through the years, she was an inspector at Parker Seals O-Ring division, a subsidiary of Parker Hannifin Corp., and a union steward there.

What she learned in that capacity, she said, is that you don't have to "fly off the handle" to make a point. "Some things are better left unsaid," she said. "That takes a lot of willpower."

Well, we aren't very good at that in this country. Just look at our ever increasing girth. Telling ourselves "no" doesn't come as easily as telling someone else "no."

But, she said, it is never too late to change. We just have to set our minds to doing better.

"Until we learn how to respect each other or love each other, we are a lost generation of people," Marshall said.

If we can't find the wherewithal to control ourselves, I suggest we seek the council of folk like Marshall who are willing to remind us that young eyes are watching.

With our current behavior, we shouldn't be OK with what they are seeing.