Mom’s Wisdom

Terry Lieb Challenging Yourself, Living out your Faith 6 Comments

I was late!

The parking lot of the doctor’s office was full except for a row of empty handicap spaces right up front. I glanced at the handicap tag hanging on the rear-view mirror. The tag is for my wife who wasn’t in the car. Should I…?

I felt quite embarrassed being late for the appointment and finding another parking space would make me even later. Excuses ran through my mind. Being late would inconvenience the doctor and his staff and besides, there were several other handicap spaces available. And I’m sure plenty of other people do the same thing. Even before the thought finished, I heard my mother’s voice from over 60 years ago.

“Never use someone else’s misbehavior to justify your behavior—or misbehavior.”

It was wisdom she had repeated throughout my childhood. I’d already heard it several times on the day Mom pulled me aside when I got home from school and told me that Mrs. Kline, an elderly neighbor, had stopped by, quite upset. Some kids were taking a “shortcut” through her yard and on several occasions some of her most favorite flowers had been trampled on.

Photo by Valentina Locatelli on

“But Mom,” I protested, “All of the kids cut through her yard!”

As soon as the words came out of my mouth I realized what I had done—or tried to. Justified my misbehavior by the misbehavior of others.

Mom knew immediately that I realized what I had done. “I’m proud of you, you remembered what I taught you!” she said, giving me a smile and a wink. “That’s much better than me repeating what I said before.”

She didn’t stop there, though. “The next time you are with your friends and the group begins to cross Mrs. Kline‘s yard and you decide to go around, you may want to be thinking about how you want to respond to them in case they ask you why you are taking a different path,” she said.

Mom was amazing; she didn’t tell me what to say but simply suggested I might want to “think about” my possible response!

“It can be hard to do something different than everyone else,” she continued. “Courage to take a stand and do what you feel is right is a rare quality! But if you do manage to muster the courage to go up against the crowd and you feel abandoned and alone, remember that God is right there beside you. God is always with you, Terry, but I think He’s especially close when you’re standing up to everyone else to do what you think is right.”

That lesson made a deep impression on me and has stuck with me for over six decades. I wish I could say that that was all it took, that I always followed my conscience from that day forward. Unfortunately I’ve discovered that, like so many things, this is a battle that must be fought on a on-going basis. Even now at times I catch myself beginning to justify a behavior because “everyone else” does it or not doing what I know is right because I might stand out or make other people uncomfortable by not “going along.”

Whether it is using a handicap tag that isn’t mine, going “just a few” miles over the speed limit, “fudging” on taxes, or “sampling” the fruit in the grocery store, the temptation to use the “everyone’s doing it” excuse is always there. Those might seem like fairly trivial examples, and perhaps they are,

but once you start looking to other people’s actions to set the standard for your own behavior, that mindset can be used to justify just about anything.

You can see it everywhere: unfaithful spouses routinely defend their affairs by saying their spouse wasn’t giving them what they needed; business leaders rationalize exploitative or even illegal practices by saying their competitors are also guilty and they couldn’t be competitive if they didn’t follow suit; party faithful turn a blind eye to immoral personal behavior, slander ads, or false facts from members of their party because “that’s the way politics works” and “the other party does it too;” so-called “patriots” support America’s use of torture or other human rights violations by saying these brutalities are justified because of the enemy’s own atrocities.

In a world which often seems to have no principles beyond what’s good for me and mine, what works, or what I can get away with, it’s increasingly rare to run into examples of moral integrity and courage. And the worse things gets, the more tempting it is to write off our own moral failings as minor and irrelevant compared with the really bad stuff “everyone else” is doing. It’s a vicious cycle that leads nowhere but down.

Is it possible to reverse this “race to the bottom” for the moral low ground? Is there anything we can do to fight the virus of self-serving rationalizations and “blame game” infecting our society at every level? I believe there is.

I believe the way to change the world is to get to the root of the problem—the mindset enabling it all. And to do that, the best place to start is with myself. With my own excuses and justifications. With my own commitment to doing the right thing no matter what anyone else does or doesn’t do, no matter how important or insignificant it is. If I really want to change the world for the better, it starts with a parking space and a handicap tag.


  1. What do you tell yourself when you want to justify behavior you know in your heart is wrong? Do you ever use the fact that other folks engage in it too as an excuse? Can you think of any specific examples?
  2. Do you find it difficult to stand out from the crowd? Do you think you possess moral courage? When your beliefs are not supported by others, what do you draw on for strength?
  3. When called out on bad behavior by friends or loved ones, do you ever try to invalidate the charge by accusing them of the same or equivalent misconduct? How might focusing on your own behavior affect your relationships?
  4. Are you willing to call out people in your social group, political party, or country when they are guilty of behavior that you would condemn in opponents? Why or why not? Some people think holding their friends and allies accountable is disloyal and therefore wrong; what do you think?
  5. How does it play out with other countries around the world when we justify a behavior or decision based on what another country or leader did? Some people say sticking to moral principles is “unrealistic” in global politics; do you think God agrees?
  6. What examples of moral courage have you witnessed of people who did what they thought was right even at great personal expense and/or despite being the only one to make that choice? What can you do to help support those who are enduring significant penalties for following their conscience?
  7. How much would you sacrifice to do the right thing? Would you be willing to risk your relationships, your reputation, your job/career, or even your life? How do you feel about your answer?


Banner Photo Credit by Mark Duffel on

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Glenn Higbie
Glenn Higbie
March 1, 2020 3:09 pm

Thanks for the reminder that setting an example for others can start at a very early age. Even at an advanced age, it’s important to set the example for others. If they can’t follow it, that’s their issue not mine. I continue to struggle with our political scene and seeing what others are willing to accept. As always, thanks for writing the example of what all of us should do.

Nanci Osborne
Nanci Osborne
March 1, 2020 9:45 pm

Thanks Terry! A good lesson of which to be reminded!

March 2, 2020 7:52 pm

While I don’t know who to attribute it to, I learned that the favorite words of the devil are, “just this once.” I’ve found that to be true in my life. The temptation to bend the rules is omnipresent. It’s the remarkable leader that stands firmly on principal and doesn’t give in, regardless of the consequences. It’s that type of leadership that is greatly missing. While very few can describe what “principled” means in practice, almost everyone knows it when they see it.

This is what leadership looks like:

Bill K
Bill K
March 8, 2020 2:02 pm

Thank you as always for your wisdom and wit. In our men’s group, we have talked about this as “we (meaning all of us) can justify whatever we do…whether correct or incorrect”. And though we can “justify” it, doesn’t make it right. Very hard to walk that moral line, especially when it goes against the moment, the group you’re with or the seemingly new “norm” brought on in the current political climate. But in the end we all have to answer to the final judgement…when we stand naked and alone before God….then, all the “justification” we used…will be empty words… Read more »

diane brubaker
diane brubaker
March 26, 2020 12:55 pm

A very timely message, especially in this time of income tax requirements and the coronavirus. Issues like social distancing and ensuring the common good can make us examine our values and what we stand for. Thank you, Terry.

Ron Wildasin
Ron Wildasin
April 3, 2020 2:10 pm

Your words bring back a lifetime of opportunities which I sidestepped with excuses and times I just didn’t want to rock the boat. Courage is not something that only exists on the battlefield. It challenges us everyday.