He wanted to be checked for STD’s. Alcohol inspired unprotected intercourse with a complete stranger in a foreign country had resulted in an unpleasant burning sensation with urination. He was educated enough to know that this was a sign of a possible infection and that he needed to be tested. He was educated, but that had not kept him from an extremely risky act. I was curious as to what his decision making process was, wondered what the values were that guided his life and how could have been so foolish.
As we talked I learned that he was like many young men I have seen over the years. He didn’t have a well-developed system of values, hadn’t spent much time thinking about why he did what he did. He lived his life in the moment, doing whatever felt right or good at the time.
This approach to life had brought him to a place where he was not only infected with a sexually transmitted disease, he was also unemployed and unsure of what he wanted to do in life. His life resume included a college degree from a respectable university, a fair number of jobs and a large number of sexual partners but it did not include a sense of purpose or direction. He talked about jobs he thought he might like, industries he might want to work in and the lifestyle to which he aspired, focusing on pleasure and finances. What he did not talk about were the things that truly matter in life such as personal character and lasting relationships.
I asked him if he had ever considered pursuing something different, if instead of focusing on the things he wanted to do perhaps considering the type of person he wanted to be. He hadn't. I asked him if he wanted to be married someday. He said he did, so I said, “Think of the type of woman you would want to marry someday, then think of the type of man that woman would want, then try to be that kind of man!” The thought that a quality woman might not be attracted to him was clearly novel to him!
It was also clear that he had not spent any time considering his character and personal development. He hadn't even considered it. As we talked I realized that he had never been mentored or parented, had never had a relationship with a mature and moral man who had the ability to model a truly successful life. Absent such influence there really was no way that he could be any different than he was. I realized he was the unavoidable end product of modern American culture. He was motivated to consume, to experience and to have. Delayed gratification, sacrificial love and personal growth were alien concepts.
My time with him made me realize the terrible mistake parents make when we emphasize achievement and experience over character and growth. We are so obsessed with our children having successful careers that we forget to train them in successful relationships. We have forgotten to teach them that doing well means doing right. That this is no longer a value is evident by parental response to report cards. Almost no one cares about the citizenship grades anymore. It is all about the “A”.
This is not the way we raised our children and built our home. I was blessed with spiritual heritage that taught me perspective and what matters in life. Lisa and I worked hard to teach our children that what mattered most was not the job you did but the character you had. We made sure our children understood that success is not about the things you own. It is about the people you love and serve.
My son illustrates the chasm between our Christian values and the valueless choices of the young patient. Nate is about the same age as the young man who came to my office and their lives are dramatically different, a difference derived from their upbringing. My son has been married for over 2 years to the only girl he ever dated. He loves her dearly, sacrificially and completely. He is a man of faith and family who is in church every Sunday, who calls his mom several times a week and who carves out time for family on a regular basis. Out of a desire to build a life with and for his wife he has applied himself in his work and studies. He values honesty, justice and relationships. He has a clear sense of the type of man he wants to be and he is working on becoming that man. Values matter to him.
My conversation with the young patient was relatively short but is my hope and prayer that our brief interaction will help him look at life in a different way. It is not too late for him, or for any of us, to change our approach. If he realizes that who we are is more important than what we do he may find the sense of purpose and direction he has been lacking, as well as the sense of fulfillment and happiness he desires.