Machiavelli felt it was better to be feared than loved, and I
have the greatest of respect for Niccolo Machiavelli as an observer of the
nature of man. He saw man as inherently evil and thereby you had to focus on
his nature which was dominated by convenience over conscience, and perhaps the
greatest force to affect that personal convenience was personal fear. However,
to be fair to Machiavelli, his observations were set in a time period with a
surrounding culture. Machiavelli would in all likelihood have preferred things
to be different, but even Hobbs looked at man as being inherently evil because
of the culture of Hobbs’ times. If you look to other periods, such as the
inception of America and those that bound together in sacrifice for its
Declaration of Independence, or the efforts of what many see as the greatest
generation after World War II, when they not only brought freedom, but moved to
create a better world with the Marshall Plan. You see a different culture, and
you see the most powerful component was not fear, but was instead conscience,
and the greatest driver of conscience is love. Fear drives convenience to
dominate, love drives conscience to dominate. Which is dominant in any period
depends on the culture, what it values, and what it teaches its children.
Conscience must be sensitized to reach the level that love overcomes fear. Good
character where conscience overcomes convenience is much easier on an
individual level because there is a better appreciation of the Golden Rule and
the common good. Convenience dominates in the levels of power because
convenience finds many allies in ambition, greed, hubris and their cousins.
Conscience reaches power when the culture of the society appreciates conscience
as a value and the powers of it being convenient are thus pulled to its side.
History shows us that there have been periods that man’s evil dominated and had
atrocities, other periods showed great charity. They occur in different
societies simultaneously because each of us has the forces fighting within us.
God gave us free choice to choose our nature, but the nature of the culture
Growing up in Texas part of your education was a lot of
witticism and simple stories. Some were a bit dated such at the advice “not to
squat while you are wearing spurs”, others are longer lasting such as the fact
“you should not complain about having no boots when you realize that other
people have no feet”, and a few get a bit more complicated. One is the old
story of the little boy who went into a café and sat at one of the few tables.
The waitress came up and asked what he wanted, and he asked her how much an Ice
Cream Sundae cost. Seeing that tied up one of her few tables she said
fifty-cents rather abruptly. He slowly got his money out and counted it in one
hand and then asked her how much for just a bowl of ice cream. Becoming
increasingly frustrated as more people waited she answered, thirty-five cents.
He said he would take the ice cream, she served it, he finished it, paid for it
and went on his way. When she returned to clean the table she saw two nickels
and five pennies stacked neatly beside the bowl as her tip. Obviously, he could
have had what he wanted, but he cared more about seeing that he was fair with
That simple story can help each of us define ourselves. Was the
boy naďve in not getting what he wished and should he have conveniently just
gotten the Sundae? Was his concern for her such that it embarrassed her for
having taken him so lightly when his concern was more about her than himself,
or should she have just “realistically” realized that the fifteen-cents was a
rather minor benefit for tying up a table? Even more important, what was the
attitude of the surrounding people who watched and understood? They were the
ones that would form the culture of the times. Or, did they admire the boy and
the values that he showed? Did they themselves feel imposed upon because he was
a small customer and they were going to buy more and they were delayed? Did
they become irritated with the waitress for treating him poorly, and in keeping
with the times, feel that he should have sued her for discrimination? Or, did
they simply not care? Did they wonder what their child would have done in a
It is the latter that has to become a concern if we are going to
have a society that moves forward. Even before we can decide what we want to
teach we have to recognize the need that it be taught, and we have to make it
our personal responsibility to do so.
Machiavelli was totally right in his observation that half of
life is fate, the other half you can control. Our family has always felt that
if you took actions in God’s favor on those you could control, you could ask
God’s favor on those that you did not. You normally receive in life as a result
of what you give. The issue is the culture of the times and the power over
whether the child that succeeds is one that is convenience or has conscience.
It is not an issue of just what we teach our children, it is instead an issue
of how actively we shape our society. Fear and love drive power which drives
culture. It all depends on which is strongest.