The Basic Rules Still Apply

Judy Stokes - Sacramento, California
As heard on the This I Believe podcast, January 5, 2015
Judy Stokes

As a parent of four grown sons, Judy Stokes remembers instilling in her children the basic values of life, such as “No hitting” and “Share your toys.” In reflecting on these earliest life lessons, Ms. Stokes believes we should all have the courage to live by those early values.

Age Group: 50 - 65

I believe that peace on earth is possible. But to achieve it, we might have to actually live by some of the earliest values we were taught.

I have been involved in raising sons for the last 29 years. As any parent knows, there are some basics you teach your children, things like:

“Respect others.”

“No hitting.”

“You will get a ‘time out’ for fighting, so use your words to solve your problems.”

“If you have a problem you can’t solve, don’t slug your friend. Tell your parents or teacher.”

“Don’t hog your toys. Share.”

I wonder why all those basic values we work so hard to instill in our children seem to change once they become older and begin to adapt to our greater society. At that point, it seems that I must try to explain that while hitting and physical violence is wrong for children, it’s okay for grown men and women, on behalf of the government. In fact, it’s not only okay, it’s honorable!

It seems I must try to explain that when our country disagrees with what someone else is doing or how someone else has decided to live, it’s honorable for us to send people over to shoot, maim, and kill their people.

Since when did those basic values change? Why is a violent five-year-old punished, while a 20-year-old is trained in violence—and honored?

How do I begin to explain why greed, and self interest, and domination through physical power are now acceptable? Especially when I believe that they are not. I believe that these are grossly immature expressions of human nature. I believe that the time has come for all of us—here in this country and in every country—to stop acting like out-of-control children.

I believe, as did John Lennon, that “war is over—if you want it.” I believe we do have the power, as human beings, to live in a different manner. I believe that basic human nature is not evil, but that we simply lack the collective will to wake up, to question what we are doing, and to change course.

Two of my four sons are now grown men; two are almost there. I am terribly proud of the values they still hold dear. The older two have jobs that contribute to the greater good—one works by caring for autistic children and making music; the other by fighting fires and preserving the wilderness. They have refused to choose work that serves only greed, but instead have chosen professions in which they can serve the world. And while they have not been called to take part in a war, they remain committed to finding some other way to serve, if called.

I believe that peace is possible, and that is the only path for this weary world. And I believe the path is easy. We were all taught that path, as children. We only need to remember, and then have the courage the live by those early values.

Judy Stokes lives in Sacramento where she is a medical writer for a health care company. All four of the sons she writes about in her essay are now fully grown. Her oldest is a career firefighter; the second son became a father this last year and is currently living in Athens, Georgia ; the third lives in the Bay Area, working in restaurant management; and the youngest is pursuing his PhD in molecular biology.

Recorded by Capital Public Radio in Sacramento and produced for This I Believe by Dan Gediman