My niece, Emma, who is fifteen-months old and lives in Irvine,
California, has been attending music class. It's impossible to know
fully the impact that music will have on her life, but already her face
lights up every time she hears music and moves and grooves to the tunes
confidently, playfully, in perfect rhythm and style. In seeing Emma
dance, I am reminded of Tiger Woods who as a toddler putted golf balls
every day with his father and the excellence of the Olympians achieved
through discipline and habits instilled at tender ages.
The wisdom of millennia back continues to resonate: Train a child in
the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.
The problem with habits is that the good ones require intentionality,
discipline, patience and hard work while the bad ones come only too
What are the admirable habits you as a parent, we as a society -
intentionally, purposefully, sacrificially - are instilling in our
children and young people? Alternatively, what are the dark habits you
as a parent, we as a society are encouraging and permitting through
carelessness, apathy and lack of vision?
If we are wise and visionary, we must be intentional and purposeful in
our living by forming life-enriching habits in ourselves and our
children. We are a generation, post-Khmer Rouge, uni- quely cast with
an opportunity and a burden: Shall we squander the lessons of the past
and let our parents and family die in vain?
Or, shall we live sacrificially and meaningfully for change, for
transformation - from violence to peace, hatred to love, vulgarity to
decency, fear to courage, arrogance to humility, mediocrity to
excellence, pettiness to largeness of heart, envy to praise, folly to
wisdom, inanity to knowledge, vacillation to perseverance, apathy to
passion, false- hood to truth, humiliation to dignity/nobility - in
order that our children may move away from this present darkness to
build a brighter future and join the world community of the 21st
Shall we merely exist, or shall we LIVE and live passionately by giving
the new generation str- ong shoulders to stand on, a firm foundation
from which to build for globalized, 21st century liv- ing?
The answer cannot be the current status quo. It must be the latter; we
must live sacrificially; we must live intentionally and passionately
with shrewd single-mindedness for peace, love, decency, courage,
humility, excellence, generosity, nobility, wisdom, knowledge and truth
- all these words we throw around as good and true.
However, when I look around our society, I shudder at what I see and
hear being instilled and formed in our young people. I see elementary
school students bribing their way through sch- ools, through their
young life - encouraged and applauded by the parents and our leaders,
very much comfortably at ease with corruption as a way of life.
I see young children in my neighborhood scavenging for rubbish when
they should be attending school, sniffing glue to numb their
existence. I see a void of leadership at all levels of society,
beginning with us as civic leaders. I see indecency and hear vulgarity
from us, about us.
What I do not see often enough is children reading, adults reading,
parents parenting, leaders leading. What I hear is lip service to
these values; what I do not see is the acting out of these values.
These words of nobility, goodness, peace etc. are only words, empty
rhetoric if they are not habitually, incrementally instilled and
developed in each one of us. We cannot do otherwise; we cannot
afford anything else. Phrases such as "proud to be born Khmer" ring
hollow if we continue to cheat, kill and lie to and about each other.
A long time ago, I learned that there is no short cut to life. In a
bling-bling culture, where only the surface matters, where things are
not what they seem, we are fooling ourselves to think we can exist as
we are now and acquire good habits and virtues without discipline,
without eff- orts, without education, without hard work, without
We must know our history, world history. We must be better readers of
the patterns of life spanning the years and events of these histories.
If we are at all paying attention, we would know that anything of value
and meaning must be paid for in real terms. We value dignity? Fight
for it. Earn it. We value freedom? Fight for it. Earn it.
Apartheid did not end in South Africa without decades of struggle,
costing lives and 27 years of imprisonment for Nelson Mandela. Think
Gandhi and his struggle for independence from British imperialism and
what it cost him and his countrymen. Barack Obama is standing on the
shoulders of giants who came before him and paved the way for his
historic presidential candidacy; think Martin Luther King, Jr. and
decades of the civil rights movement.
What are the sacrifices we are making for our children? What are the
habits we are intentionally living and imparting to prepare for a more
prosperous present and future? What are the character-forming habits
we would like to see more in ourselves and in future generations? What
are we doing to actualize them from empty rhetoric?
I agree with Dr. Mark Strom - my new favorite author - that the answer
to these habits and sacrifices which allow us to "live well" is not
magical but practical. I also agree with him on four little sayings as
good reminders and a place to start: take care in little things; big
doors swing on little hinges; faithful in little things, faithful in
big things; and leave people better than you found them.
And always, READ.
Theary C. SENG