On April 20, 1999, people from around the world were riveted to their TVs as brutal and barbaric acts were carried out in a brazen attack at Columbine High School in Colorado. Two teenage boys created a scene of carnage that left 12 of their classmates and one teacher dead and millions wondering what went wrong. It brought the world not only to a comfortable suburban neighborhood, but to the crossroads of values and behavior.
In the aftermath of such unfathomable outward behavior, all were left to question how this could happen, why the innocent suffer, and what would be done to prevent such horrors from happening in the future. Eighteen years, and many equally sad and stunning incidents later, most of those questions remain unanswered or unresolved in our society.
The simple reaction to such tragedies is a focus on behavioral control, with some begging for a ban on guns; others pleading for more parental control; some calling for restrictions on movies, music, medicine, websites and video games; and still others seeking additional screening and surveillance in schools and public buildings. While all of these behavioral controls have merit as part of a total solution, none will solve the deeper and more penetrating problem.
Throughout history, the teaching of principles and values has always had a greater impact on changing behavior than trying to control behavior. Legislating behavior has never succeeded, and it is only when vital values and proven principles are learned and lived that positive and lasting change occurs in individuals and communities.
For example, over the last several decades, the war on drugs has centered on the outward behavior of controlling the production, import and distribution of addictive substances — even though the country has long known that simply attempting to control the behavior around drug use doesn’t change the pattern or downward spiral of the drug epidemic.
In the business world, organizations around the globe have spent billions of dollars attempting to increase productivity and quality. They have brought in experts, gurus and consultants who focus on the outward behavior of such things. The impact of this type of behavioral focus rarely produces lasting change or improvement. Companies should know by now that the behaviors of productivity and quality are natural byproducts of a culture emphasizing the values of integrity, innovation, teamwork, commitment, collaboration and service.
Of course it is critically important that we raise awareness and create consequences for negative behaviors such as discrimination, abuse, human trafficking, ethnic cleansing and corporate and government corruption — just to name a few. Yet change in these areas will only be brought about when the values of acceptance, understanding, self-control, empathy and honesty become part of the moral fabric of our society.
When we talk about the easier to measure and control components of outward behavior, we often keep ourselves far distant from the enlightening and empowering element of values.
Where there is a void in values, laws and legislation will not deter bad behavior. Where values are valued, laws and legislation can lend strength, certainty and security to society.
We may wish to have our children portray the outward behavior of being quiet or using a soft voice when in a synagogue, church or at a national monument. However, this behavior will never be manifest until the values of reverence and respect have been instilled. We may understand the important behaviors of daily exercise and eating right, but until we internalize the values of nutrition, energy, health and vitality, we will continue to be a nation of yo-yo dieters.
Looking in the rearview mirror at the tragedy of Columbine, we can see the behavioral byproduct of living values heroically displayed in the actions of the only teacher slain in the four-hour nightmare. Coach Dave Sanders could have had all of the behavioral training in the world on what actions to take in such an emergency. He could have been instructed on what to do and where to go and myriad other behavioral tactics. However, no behavioral training would have compelled him to do what he actually did. He was driven by his values — his love, concern and commitment to care for his students. While inflicted with wounds that would prove fatal, he led a small band of students out of harm’s way and into an area of safety. Not because he knew the “behavior” of how, but because he knew the “value” of why.
Then, in a display of the very values taught them by this valiant man of values, the students took the shirts off of their backs to slow the tide of life-giving blood and attempted to comfort their coach and teacher. Finally, in his last moments of mortality, the students showed him a picture of what coach Dave Sanders valued most — his family. Family — where values are taught.