Readers love Hal Urban's books for their common sense, their wisdom, and their inspirational affirmation of timeless values. With The 10 Commandments of Common Sense, he continues to build on his central theme -- that there's a direct relationship between good character and the quality of life. He also shows how the teachings of Scripture and the genuine practice of faith can be integral parts of a fulfilling existence.
Urban draws on his own lifelong spiritual search -- which has included Protestant churches, the Catholic church, some Eastern philosophies, and human potential psychology -- to produce an ecumenical and nondogmatic examination of the Scriptures, finding in them clear and simple guidance for increasing both purpose and joy in our lives. Five of his principles are do's, as in "Keep a positive outlook on life" and "Bring out the best in other people." The other five are don't's, as in "Don't be seduced by popular culture" and "Don't judge other people." These ten commandments of timeless wisdom will inspire people of all faiths who are searching for more meaning and direction in their lives, no matter where it comes from.
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DON'T BE SEDUCED BY POPULAR CULTURE
IT PREVENTS YOU FROM THINKING FOR YOURSELF
Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.
ROMANS 12:2 PHI
You are what you are because of what goes into your mind.
The wisdom of King Solomon is legendary, but few people other than those well versed in the Scriptures know the story behind it. It's told in chapter 3 of the First Book of Kings in the Old Testament. Solomon was only about twenty years old when he became king of Israel upon the death of his father, King David. He felt inadequate to the task and told God, "But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties." He asked for only one thing. It wasn't power or riches or long life. He asked instead for wisdom. God responded to him in a dream: "I will do what you have asked. I will give you a wise and discerning heart, so that there will never have been anyone like you, nor will there ever be."
God gave Solomon wisdom and very great insight, and a breadth of understanding as measureless as the sand on the seashore.
Men of all the nations came to listen to Solomon's wisdom, sent by all the kings of the world, who had heard of his wisdom.
I KINGS 3:29,34 NIV
During his reign of forty years, Solomon wanted to pass on his wisdom to both his contemporaries and future generations, so he put it into writing as the primary author of the Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes. More than anything, he warns us to not be misled by others, particularly by "fools" and "sinners." In modern times those would be people who do stupid things and those who do illegal things. The truth is, there are times in our lives when we're swayed by both types. A word closely related to wisdom is discernment, or knowing how to make good choices, and Solomon repeatedly reminds us of this throughout his writings. Good choices don't happen naturally; we learn to make them with the help of wise people.
One of Solomon's urgent warnings is to not be enticed by the ways of the world. The dictionary tells us that to entice is to get a person to act in a particular way by offering something desirable. What were those desirable things in the tenth century B.C., when Solomon lived? He mentions money, possessions, power, and the opposite sex, and warns us to not be seduced by any of them. He also warns us against obtaining what we desire through dishonest means. Are things so much different in the twenty-first century A.D.? Not really, except perhaps that we seem to want more and more of it all. Some things never change, and Solomon's advice is as good today as it was three thousand years ago.
Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
ROMANS 12:2 MES
The natural act of thinking is greatly modified by culture; western man uses only a small fraction of his mental capabilities.... Man has put himself in his own zoo. He has so simplified his life and stereotyped his responses that he might as well be in a cage.
EDWARD T. HALL,PROFESSOR OF ANTHROPOLOGY
One of the most valuable and eye-opening subjects I ever studied in school was cultural anthropology. Somehow I missed it in high school and college, but in graduate school I became deeply immersed in it. In the early days of my doctoral studies in education, my adviser asked what my area of emphasis would be. I told her psychology. She then asked me how many courses I had taken in cultural anthropology. The answer was none. It seemed like a strange question. What did cultural anthropology have to do with human behavior? I soon found out that it has everything to do with human behavior. Together with sociology, it forms the foundation of psychology and leads us to a better understanding of what we do and why we do it.
Cultural anthropology, sometimes called social anthropology, is the study of human behavior as influenced by other people and culture. As much as we'd like to think of ourselves as individuals and independent thinkers, the truth is that we're often not either. From infancy on we unwittingly go through a process anthropologists call enculturation. In other words, we become products of our culture. The way we dress, the way we talk, the music and entertainment we enjoy, the products we buy, the food we eat, the beliefs and values we hold dear are all closely connected to our culture. It's impossible to be free of the influence of culture, but we can become aware of it and resist its seduction.
Let me use an embarrassing example from my own life to demonstrate the influence of popular culture. I was in my mid-thirties when I started studying cultural anthropology. Since education is supposed to increase our understanding of the world and our self-awareness, I had to ask myself if popular culture had influenced a think-for-yourself guy like me. The honest and humbling answer was yes in a big way. When I took a good look, I realized that popular culture had played an enormous role in my life. I had this moment of self-awareness in the 1970s, a decade many of us would like to forget.
I cringe when I see pictures of myself taken during that period. I had long hair, a big mustache, and muttonchop sideburns. I wore bell-bottom pants and flowery shirts with big collars. I was into everything pop psychology had to offer because my goal was to be "self-actualized." In addition to my impressive command of psychobabble, I used terms like "groovy" and "far out." And yes, I listened to disco music, including the Bee Gees. But the worst part of all was that I thought I was pretty cool.
How do things like this happen, even to educated people? It's simple. Popular culture is one of the most powerful and seductive forces in our lives. We're bombarded daily with shallow messages about what we should look like and all the things we should own, because then we'll be cool. If we allow popular culture to take over, as I did, we cease to think for ourselves. And we deny ourselves the opportunity to become the type of people we could be. That's why Solomon told us to "Put away foolishness" and Jesus told us, "You must change your hearts."
It is only with the heart that one sees rightly.
ANTOINE DE SAINT-EXUPÉRY
Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think.
ROMANS 12:2 TLB
During the last several years of my teaching career I used the heading above to launch into an exercise I used with both my high school and university students. I wrote those words on the board and gave each student a half sheet of paper with the following instructions: "At the top of your paper, write the word 'agree' or 'disagree' in regard to your feelings about this statement. It has to be one or the other. Then in one concise paragraph, explain why."
This simple assignment quickly became one of my favorites because it consistently produced two wonderful results: first, it always got my students to think; and second, it never failed to provoke a lively discussion, which often included some healthy disagreement. Ironically, more than three-fourths of the high school kids answered "disagree" (is there a period in our lives when fitting in is more important than it is during adolescence?), while more than three-fourths of the adults answered "agree." Those results surprised me the first time, but not afterward. Kids, especially teenagers, feel an enormous amount of peer pressure to conform. They do exactly that but don't seem to be aware of it. Even if they are, they rarely admit it. Adults, who feel much less peer pressure, are simply more aware that we often do things to conform without thinking first, and it's usually what everyone else is doing.
The conversation in both age groups always led to the topic of how we make choices. My main contribution to this part of the discussion was always the same: "If we don't learn to consciously make our own choices, either we'll make choices unconsciously (not even aware that we're choosing to do one thing over another) or we'll let other people make them for us." One year a very bright high school senior said he agreed with me and then asked, "But how do you learn to make conscious and independent choices?" An excellent question. I said we learn to make our own choices only after we become aware of all the powerful influences in our culture.
To make my point, I told him and the rest of the class about what I was like in the 1970s. They laughed, and some even asked if I had any old yearbooks so they could see pictures. I said I'd burned them. In spite of my college education and thirty years of life experience, I'd been leading a life of "mindless conformity." I also explained a little about cultural anthropology and sociology and why I thought they should be required courses beginning in junior high school.
This topic seemed to genuinely intrigue both my teenage and adult students. The first time we did this exercise, another good question came up, namely, "What aspects of our culture do you think most influence the choices we make?" I surmised aloud that we would get different answers from different people, so I suggested that we answer it collectively. The students gave me their answers, and I wrote them on the board. Over the years, there was remarkable consensus. These are what they saw (in no particular order) as the most powerful influences in our culture:
Although we devoted only one class to the cultural influences that affect our choices, it did have an enormous and lasting impact on many of my students. At the end of each semester I taught, there was a final exam. Part of that exam was of the take-home variety, and it had only one question: "What are the three most valuable things you learned in this class? Give a reason for each." Our discussion about "mindless conformity" and the influence of popular culture on decision making was one of the three on more than 80 percent of the papers. One of my adult students summed it up the best: "Wow! What an eye-opener! Culture was just another word to me before we did this. Now I'm constantly aware of its influence. Life can be an 'exercise in mindless conformity,' but not if we learn to make our own choices."
We must make the choices that enable us to fulfill the deepest capacities of our real selves.
How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver.
PROVERBS 16:16 NIV
No country in the world is so driven by personality, has such a hunger to identify with personalities, larger-than-life personalities especially, as this one.
Entertainment is a critically important aspect of life. Without it we'd work too hard and too long, take ourselves too seriously, get bored, get on one another's nerves, and probably crack due to an overload of stress. We need a release, and, next to physical exercise, entertainment is the best way to get it. Fortunately, there's no shortage of people to provide it for us talented actors, athletes, dancers, comedians, writers, etc. Many of them are so talented they become famous. We call them celebrities and sometimes superstars, pop idols, or icons.
What these talented people do in their professional lives is both important and wonderful. But is what they do in their private lives equally important and wonderful? Why is there such a national obsession with celebrities? Why do we need to know whom they're dating, with whom they're cheating, whose babies they're having, why they split up, where they're vacationing, what they're wearing, what they eat and drink, and where? Why is there an entire industry built on what the stars are doing?
It's because millions of people want to know these things and are willing to pay for the information. The industry rakes in billions of dollars every year. Just take a look at what publications are selling at the supermarket checkout.
Here are a few examples of the influence celebrities wield in this country:
Journalists are paid large salaries just to write gossip about the stars.
Tabloids and other publications dealing with celebrities are among the best sellers.
Thousands of babies born in this country each year are named after celebrities.
People spend billions of dollars on products endorsed by celebrities.
Biographies and autobiographies of celebrities consistently appear on the best-seller lists.
There are thousands of fan clubs and memorabilia collectors devoted to the stars.
Celebrities have gained enormous influence in our government by endorsing political candidates or by running for office themselves. (The Governator wasn't the first remember Ronald Reagan?)
There are several TV programs devoted entirely to the private lives of the stars.
Most major Internet portals have a prominent section we can click on to get all the latest dirt on the people who entertain us.
The private lives of entertainers are the topic of conversation among millions of people every day. They're talked about as if they were close friends or family members. This is the scariest of all.
Psychologists and sociologists tell us this is happening because so many people lack an identity of their own. They feel unfulfilled. To fill the void, they attach themselves to someone famous and live vicariously through that person. How incredibly sad this is. It's also sad that celebrities have so much influence in shaping our culture, because the private lives of many of them are less than admirable. Still, they have an enormous amount of power in regard to our society's trends and values. And since the media can't seem to get enough of them, we're bombarded daily from all sides with information about the "lives of the stars."
Of particular concern is how much influence celebrities have in our children's lives. Having been in close contact with kids for more than forty years, I've experienced it firsthand. It's truly frightening how susceptible young minds are to the things going on in pop culture. This was one of the main reasons for doing the "exercise in mindless conformity" activity.
Another activity I did with my students prompted them to think about the people who influence them the most, and how. I've done this activity hundreds of times, both in my own classroom and in schools and colleges across the country. I always begin with this question: "Who are your heroes?" Whether I'm speaking to thirty kids in my own classroom or in a packed auditorium on the other side of the country, I ask them to write down their answers. When they're finished writing, I ask them to tell us who their heroes are. There are a few exceptions, but an overwhelming majority of the students (including graduate students in college), give me the names of celebrities.
Then comes another question: "Are you confusing the word 'celebrity' with the word 'hero'?" That usually results in a lot of blank stares and a few "huh?"s. I explain that there's a big difference between the two. A celebrity is a famous person; a hero is someone we know and admire, a person we want to emulate, a role model. We do the exercise again. The answers the second time are usually parents, grandparents, older brothers and sisters, teachers, coaches, pastors, and a few others. There's a big difference between a celebrity and a hero.
That part of the exercise is followed by real-life stories. Most kids (and adults) will tune out a lecture, but they'll listen to a good story. I tell them about the influence some of my heroes have had in helping me become a better and happier person. Those heroes include my mom, teachers I was lucky enough to have in both high school and college, a college classmate who had polio, a basketball coach, a fellow teacher, and a colleague in the character education movement. I urge students to look around. There are genuine heroes in their midst, and there will be more in the future. And I urge them to pay more attention to their heroes and less attention to celebrities.
These are the types of people Solomon was referring to when he advised us to learn from those who can influence our lives in positive ways. Instead of being seduced by celebrities and popular culture, we need to learn to think for ourselves. We also need to understand that thinking for ourselves doesn't necessarily mean thinking by ourselves. There are plenty of people around who can serve as our mentors and help us make good choices. Solomon repeatedly tells us to "Get wisdom, get understanding." He also tells us, "Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her and she will watch over you" (Proverbs 4:5-6 NIV). And then he tells us how we can attain this wisdom:
He who walks with the wise grows wise.
PROVERBS 13:20 NIV
We must decide what is really important, really necessary, make it a priority, and make time. Otherwise the siren call of the world will always keep us busy and distracted from what really is important. What really counts?
In the 1970s, time management became all the rage among businessmen and -women, students, parents, pastors, teachers, service providers, and just about everyone else. Alan Lakein had come out with his best-selling book How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life in 1973, and suddenly we all needed to learn to manage our time more effectively. To most people caught up in the craze, time management meant getting more done in less time. And since everyone knows that "time is money," they concluded that mastering their time would increase their net worth.
Unfortunately, one of the most important aspects of successful time management was completely missed. That aspect is priorities! In chapter 9 of his book Lakein advises his readers to "Set priorities, set priorities, set priorities." Four chapters later, he asks what he considers the most important question in the book: "What is the best use of my time right now?" Somehow, this central theme in Lakein's message was bypassed.
Like most other people who got sucked into this craze, I had to learn to manage my time more efficiently, so I signed up for a seminar. I was lucky. The time efficiency expert who taught it started with these words: "Everything I'm going to teach you is about priorities. The sole purpose of this seminar is to get you to examine your values, establish your priorities, and help you do a better job of living by them."
He started with a simple yet powerful exercise. He handed us a sheet of lined paper that had two column headings near the top. On the left was Priorities, and on the right was Time. In the first column we were asked to list the five things most important to us, in order of importance. In the second column we were asked to write the five things that occupied most of our time while awake, in order of time spent. It was an eye-opener for most of us attending, because we found a disconnect between what we were saying was important and how we were spending our time.
The two words the seminar leader used the most were "priorities" and "balance." He said most of us don't live according to our priorities because, first, we never take the time to establish them in writing; and second, because we get seduced by popular culture to the point of letting it dictate the way we live, the way we spend our time. That makes balanced living impossible. He said the people who are most effective in managing their time and their lives not only establish their priorities but make sure enough time is blocked out for them.
A brilliant book about living according to our priorities came out in 1994. It's called First Things First, written by Stephen R. Covey, A. Roger Merrill, and Rebecca R. Merrill. In the introduction to the book they ask these three penetrating questions:
1. "If you were to pause and think seriously about the 'first things' in your life the three or four things that matter most what would they be?"
2. "Are these things receiving the care, emphasis, and time you really want to give them?"
3. "Why is it that so often our first things aren't first?"
In the next 306 pages the authors help their readers answer these and many other important questions about priorities, time, balance, principles, and service to others. They warn that their message is not an easy one: "It may not be popular in a quick-fix, short-term, consumption-based world." And they conclude the book by challenging us to look beyond the enticements of our culture and ask ourselves this question: "Is there something I feel I could do to make a difference?"
There are things all of us can do to make better use of our time. The first step is not allowing ourselves to be seduced by popular culture.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.
ECCLESIASTES 3:1 NIV
Make the best use of your time, despite all the difficulties of these days.
EPHESIANS 5:16 PHI
Copyright © 2007 by Hal Urban
Table of Contents
Author's Note on Bible Terms and Translations
One World, Many Beliefs
FIVE THINGS THE SCRIPTURES TEACH US TO AVOID BECAUSE THEY'RE BAD FOR US
Prologue: The Root of All Our Flaws
COMMANDMENT 1: Don't be seduced by popular culture
It prevents you from thinking for yourself
COMMANDMENT 2: Don't fall in love with money and possessions
It will make you greedy and shallow
COMMANDMENT 3: Don't use destructive language
It hurts others as well as yourself
COMMANDMENT 4: Don't judge other people
It's better to work on your own faults
COMMANDMENT 5: Don't let anger get out of control
It can wreck relationships and ruin lives
FIVE THINGS THE SCRIPTURES TELL US TO DO BECAUSE THEY'RE GOOD FOR US
Prologue: The Root of All Our Virtues
COMMANDMENT 6: Keep a positive outlook on life
It's the first step toward joy
COMMANDMENT 7: Bring out the best in other people
It's better to build up than to tear down
COMMANDMENT 8: Have impeccable integrity
It brings peace of mind and a reputation of honor
COMMANDMENT 9: Help those in need
It really is better to give than to receive
COMMANDMENT 10: Do everything in love
It's the only way to find true peace and fulfillment
Conclusion: Love God, Be Good, Do Good, Love Others
The Author's Spiritual Journey