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Principles from Plutarch (7) – Grounding Love in Truth

In my last message I wrote about overcoming weakness of will. In this message I am going to write about how love, not fear, is the strongest and deepest motivator.

“For fear and force, a great navy and standing army of ten thousand hired barbarians are not, as [Dion’s] father had said, the adamantine chains which secure regal power, but the love, zeal, and affection inspired by clemency and justice; which, though they seem more pliant than the stiff and hard bonds of severity, are nevertheless the strongest and most durable ties to sustain a lasting government.”

Love is stronger than fear—even that great and wicked realist Machiavelli understood this. To rely on one’s authority and force alone is to operate from a weak position. Great teachers are loved by their students. As a result their students are more loyal, harder working, and they ultimately learn more. A harsh teacher that relies on fear may get more compliance, but his position will always be tenuous and his students will not reach their fullest position.

In seeking to build a loving relationship with our children it is important that our love be grounded in truth. In the quote above you’ll notice the love was inspired by “clemency and justice.” Things like bribes (e.g. if you listen to daddy I’ll take you to the park; if you do what mommy says you can have a treat) may work in the short term, but any attempt to “buy” our children’s love will ultimately fail. It will fail because they will eventually see through it. If we are needy and insecure, desperate to buy their love, they will quickly discover that they, not we, hold the power. And they will demand more and more while they give less and less. They will not respect us and ultimately will not obey us.

A love grounded in truth, a love grounded in our children’s best interest—a love that stretches them, challenges them, asks more of them when we know they are capable of more, a love that corrects and disciplines them even when they resist it—that is a love that will last. There will be times when they don’t understand our rules and think they are dumb and unnecessary, but they will eventually come to see the wisdom of our rules.  (I don’t know how many times I thought a 12:00 curfew was utterly tyrannical, but my parents were right—nothing good ever happens after that and I probably could have saved myself and others a lot of grief if I would have been home even earlier!) There will likely be times when our children think our expectations are unrealistically high, but with time they will come to see that they all too often sell themselves short and many will thank us for the times that we challenged them and some will even wish we had expected more of them.

When we put things in the right order we get both high and low things, but if we put them in the wrong order, we lose both. For example, if we hold our marriage vows in higher regard than our happiness, we’ll often find both. But if we put our happiness first, we may abandon our marriage and come to find ourselves unhappy.

The Athenian statesman Solon said: “a people always minds its rulers best when it is neither humored nor oppressed.” In the same way, if we raise our children in truth and justice a loving bond will often be the result. But if we seek that bond and abandon truth and justice in order to get our children to like us, we will find ourselves not only apart from truth and justice, but ultimately alienated from our children.