Have you ever been lost—really lost? When I was young, my dad bought me a bow. I practiced shooting arrows at a target. We’d travel to northern Michigan, and I would hunt with my dad. As I got older, he let me go out by myself.
One morning, we went out to the woods to hunt. We arrived before daylight. I took my flashlight and headed toward an area where I thought there might be many deer. The plan was that we’d meet back at the car at 11am.
I hunted all morning, but didn’t have any deer come close enough to shoot. I looked at my watch. It was 10:50 a.m. Time to head back to the car. As I looked around, I realized I was not really confident about the way back.
After a few minutes, I was convinced it was a certain direction. After I walked long enough, I realized I should have come to the car by then. I got a little panicked, reached into my pocket and discovered I had left my compass back at the cabin.
Trying to stay calm, I concluded that I must have walked the wrong direction. I made my best guess toward another direction. I heard the car horn—my dad was trying to help. But it was so far away! I couldn’t even figure out exactly what direction the sound was coming from.
I walked another hour. Then I saw an old, rotted stump that I recognized. I remembered, it was where I was when I first heard the car horn. I had walked in a complete circle! It was 5pm when my dad actually found me. I was totally panicked!
Every human being has an internal compass. It is a mechanism to know right from wrong, good from bad, helpful from destructive. However, we are created with the capacity to ignore the compass. God did not make puppets. We are people. We have the capacity to mess up. And it’s not that difficult. Just ignore your compass.
Getting lost in your own woods is not healthy. When it becomes part of culture, it impacts others. You might call it a movement toward being lost. It results in the deterioration of a nation. It’s not a direct assault, like war, it’s subtle, like dry rot.
When the trend away from respect continues, it becomes the norm—normal life. That’s when it becomes apparent to the masses: we’re lost! The signs become very clear: a stalled government, bad behavior, shocking news stories of human beings being…not human—to each other. It is sometimes called “civil disobedience.”
In truth, many people have lost their compass. Or, their compass is broken. What happens? They become less productive. True fulfillment is diminished. National productivity begins to wane. Progress is stalled. Society is just going in circles.
There are actually two kinds of compasses. One is used to draw circles. The other points the way. Sometimes people get confused and use the wrong compass. When that occurs, civilization is dangerously close to going down the toilet.
When I conducted the research for the book Restoring Civility, I realized the subtle power of the compass that points the way. At first, you don’t realize you are lost. You are unaware that you have lost your compass. Then, when behavior grows dark, you realize—and ask—“Can we go on this way?”
America is in the moment of a wakeup call. How many suicides does it take? How much political gridlock? How many shootings? How much civil unrest?
In this season of history, there is a window of opportunity. It is an opportunity to relocate the compass. Disrespect is a disease that infects destiny. It is quiet and incremental. It is not like a foreign army—you can see them coming. It’s more like an infectious disease. You see the symptoms, but can’t get a handle on the cause.
This is a moment of opportunity. Civility does not rise because of a government program. It is a movement, one person at a time, making an intentional effort to live respectfully. You can’t enact a law, or give a lecture. It’s caught, one person after another.
Do you have your compass? Will you use it to live respectfully? Will you influence others as you take a stand for a sustainable, better world? It has to start somewhere. It has to start sometime. How about with you? How about now?