Take heart, parents. You are taking part in a local, national, global effort to raise up the next generation. Will it be a caring, thoughtful, virtuous people? We can only hope.
Actually, no—we can do so much more than hope. For you are parents. These squiggling spirits woven into flesh that flare up in zealous passion at times, at times quiver with noisome terseness—these are our future, our future in your hands.
To parent, from its etymological root, is to bring forth or to produce. While quite literally one who is a parent has already produced, only a fool would say that birth was the final production site; rather, the act of parenting is the act of production. You are producing when you are parenting.
So, we have far more than hope: we have you.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man, he argues against the belief that virtue is a purely intellectual pursuit; instead, he argues that virtue is sustained through the cultivation of heart. Yet, modern society lacks heart. Heart, as the seat of sentiment, provides the strength of conviction and the inclination of purpose to seek virtue. Our scholars do not lack virtue because they are sentimental; they lack sentiment and thus are not virtuous. The virtuous man needs emotion that prods him to conviction. It takes spirit to stand for the good. It takes courage to abhor the wrong. It takes heart to fight for virtue.
So, apathy is the true culprit of our moral degeneration. A paucity of care and a pittance of concern for justice leads to a society lacking in Good Samaritans—lacking “men with chests.” The difference between the “good” religious men in Jesus’ parable that pass by the injured man on the road and the “bad” Samaritan figure that actually stops to help the man is not intellect, is not knowledge, it’s desire. The religious men knew what was right; they had studied the Torah and understood the good. However, solely an intellectual knowledge of good lacks “chest.” What Lewis means by “chests” is magnanimity. A great, large, magna spirit, soul, anima shouting, “Act!” Without emotion, our scholars lack interest and investment in the world around them. They become vacuous heads or crippled hearts that cannot feel outrage, indignation, joy or triumph. Their heads are not moved to action through the beating of their hearts. I cannot tell you the elation I experience when a scholar, sparked by the actions of a character, bubbles over with contempt for the treachery or with glee at the good. That is chest in action. That is emotion rightly ordered.
I say “rightly” for this seat of emotion is not itself a throne. That is the secondary mistake of our world: mistaking emotion as king when it was made to serve. Lewis clarifies, “The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.” Solomon, Plato, Aristotle, and Augustine all speak of the need for training children to love what is good and spurn what is evil. Without instruction, without exemplary models, their emotions may not move them to support what is actually right. Just like any appetite, it must be trained—for not all children are born loving their kale despite its natural goodness.
Enter the parent. Enter you. You have been, and are, ordering the appetites of your scholars. You are the model; you are the molder; you are the producer. And it’s hard. It’s counter-cultural. Maybe even counter-instinctual. But you are in this war against sin with your head and your heart, which means that when the world doubts its grasp of the good, you speak, and when the world wavers in conviction of virtue, you stand. The seemingly small victories of virtue are not small because they will echo through the ages in the future that you are parenting. The toil is not for naught though the fruit may be yet unseen. May your hearts be refreshed and encouraged: there is good in the world, and you are parenting it.