Friday, February 15, 2013

The Economics of The Ten Commandments (Part 4)

The 4th Commandment

Honor your father and mother, that you may have a long life in the land which the Lord, your God, gives you (Ex 20.12; Deut 5.16, NAB).

By honoring our parents we pay respect to them and the sacrifices they made to make our lives possible. Our mothers suffered the pangs of childbirth to bring us into the world and cared for us while we grew to maturity, and our fathers endured the hardships of earning a living to provide for our physical needs and protecting us from harm and danger.

Honoring our parents is also meant to remind us that most of the things we’ll face in life our parents faced before us and by their example showed us how or how-not-to deal with those challenges. They’ve been there first and their experience can guide us to the better path or method without having to personally try all of the less successful alternates. Rather than reinventing the wheel, we can grow as human beings and accomplish even greater things than our parents did. We’ve never met a parent who did not want their children to be more successful than they were.

Honoring our parents also means caring for those who cared for us before we could care for ourselves. In biblical times that meant actually providing for our own parents and our extended families in their old age or in times of sickness or trouble. In modern times, one extension of this is the contract between employers and employees for retirement benefits. If this commandment were honored, how could a company reduce or eliminate retirement benefits for their workers after those employees had already retired?

A business application of this commandment would be to honor the more experienced workers or managers. They’re the ones who’ve broken new ground and shown us the way. Remember that this is not slavish obedience to a higher authority; it is just showing respect for the efforts and experience of the people who went before. By doing this we hope our contribution will be worthy of respect by those who come after us.

The first corollary to this commandment of honoring our parents is to honor our extended families and friends: grandparents, uncles, aunts, elders etc. The second corollary to this is to honor those in authority over us: teachers, employers, leaders, administrators, judges, governors, presidents etc. Moreover, if we keep this command God promises long life and prosperity. We constantly read and hear about proper diets, lifestyles, and medication that will prolong our lives, but how much do we consider prolonging our lives through the habit of honoring our parents, elders, and those in authority over us.

Of course, there will always be people who abuse this trust and respect. When faced with those people we are obligated not to follow an example or direction that would lead us into improper actions.

Scandal is an attitude or behavior, which leads another to do evil. Jesus said in Matthew 18.6, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” Anyone who uses the power at his disposal in such a way that leads others to do wrong becomes guilty of scandal and is responsible if he or she has directly or indirectly caused evil. For example, if business leaders make rules or create an environment that encourages fraud or provokes their employees to anger, those leaders are guilty of scandal.

Scandal was rampant during our respective tours in the military. Allen served in the Army in the 1960s during the Vietnam War, and Bryan served in the Navy in the 1980s during peacetime. Poor leadership and treatment of the enlisted men caused many enlisted men and woman to do things they wouldn’t normally do.  Many veterans suffer sever remorse from the bad things they did while in the military. 

Businesses also create environments that force their employees to be less than honest or ethical in their business dealings. They provoke their employee’s anger and their employees retaliate by being vindictive, less productive, dishonest, unethical, or immoral.  Since the start of the Great Recession of 2008, there seems to be a trend in business to return to a 1950’s style of management by fear and intimidation where managers assume the worst about their workers and must prod them to work harder. Isn’t it amazing how old management ideas are resurrected with new labels in the name of greater productivity? In the short-term, these methods will work; in the long-term, they’re destined to fail!
Over our respective working careers, Allen and I have both faced hard choices between doing what was right or losing our jobs.  Thankfully, God gave us both the grace to choose what was right even though it cost us both our well-paying jobs.  Sometimes we look back and think of what we could have done differently, but in the end we both realize there's no compromising with evil.  Either you choose to do the right thing, or you choose to do the wrong thing.  It's that simple. 

If you're in a leadership or position of authority, you have a moral obligation to be a good example and not provoke your followers to do the wrong thing.  If your a follower, you have a moral obligation to always do the right thing regardless of what your leaders do.


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