Follow your moral compass

The following blog post is taken from an ethics speech that Upper School teacher-coach-mentor Larry Franklin delivered to students and faculty. He shares how family, academics, athletics and faith have provided a strong moral compass to guide him through life — and why it's important to realize that the choices we make today can have repercussions years down the road.

There have been a lot of physical changes I have gone through over the course of my life. I've gotten a little bit taller. I've picked up a couple pounds. I've gone from a boy to a man. I've gone from being single to being married for 23 years to the same woman. I've gone from a son to a father of three kids. A lot has changed over the years, and I have learned something about life each step of the way. Today, I'm going to be talking about your moral compass. Essentially, a moral compass is a person's ability to judge what is right and wrong and act accordingly.

Over the years, I've had some good days and I've had some bad days. I've had some happy days and I've had some sad days. I've gained a lot and I've lost a lot. Through it all, I'm still standing. Sometimes I wonder how I made it to this point in my life. But I know that it's only by the grace of God that I'm here today at this place, at this time, speaking to all of you here at Landon.

Just like we mature physically as we get older, we also mature ethically and morally as we get older. Every experience that you have gone through, and the experiences that you will go through, in your life shapes or directs your moral compass — who you will become.

My question to all of the students in here today and even some of the adults is: If you knew exactly how your moral behavior today would affect your life in the future, would you behave a little bit differently? If you knew that your decision at the party this weekend would cause your or someone else pain or suffering down the line, would you make a different decision?

The choices we make don't just impact us today; they can impact us for a lifetime. I'll tell you this: If I knew back then what I know now, I could have saved myself a whole lot of trouble. There have been many influential people and experiences in my life that have shaped who I am today — and I didn't even realize it was happening until I got a little bit older.

The moral principles that I live by today were instilled in me over the years, and I do my best to be on the right side when it comes to ethics. As I look back, I also know that I didn't always get it right. I also know that you won't get it right every time either because you're human, and none of us in here are perfect.

My hope is that when you leave this auditorium today, you will take a stroll down memory lane and think about your past experiences, even in your young lives, and begin to pay close attention to your current and future experiences so that you make sure that your moral compass is being directed in the right way.

There are four pieces of my puzzle that I believe have had a major impact on how my behavior has been governed over the course of my life. Those four areas are my home (the area where I was brought up), academics, athletics and faith. I want to talk to you about lessons that I've learned in those different areas of my life that have helped shaped who I am today as a man.

Home & Family

I grew up in a house with my mom, my dad, my three brothers, and another cousin I called my brother who my parents brought in to live with us when he was 11 years old. While we were growing up, there were things I could do and things I couldn't do. My mom and dad said, "You're supposed to be in before the streetlights come on." There were certain rules we had to follow, certain things we had to do as children, and our parents were always teaching us lessons every step of the way.

A challenge came very early on in my life, and it was years before I could share this story with people, even those who were closest to me. I'm going to share it with you because I hope in my sharing that it can help somebody else. When I was 11 or 12 years old, my dad made some bad choices. My dad made a decision that landed him in prison for five years. During that time, I was an elementary school student going into middle school, and those are some very influential times in your life. I quickly had to make some decision about the direction I was going to go. I could be mad at my dad and forget all of the things he ever taught me when I was little and start running with the wrong crowd — I could be mad at my dad for the decisions that he made and allow those decisions to impact my decisions go forward. I had to quickly understand that right is right, and wrong is wrong. Now, my dad made a mistake. He served time for that mistake. He was punished for that mistake. But he also had a choice to make, just like I did. So when I think about my upbringing and my home and the things my parents tried to instill in me, I was able to make it through that difficult time without any harm to myself, without making those bad decisions that will scar you for a lifetime.

As a parent now, I talk to my children and I tell them the same thing I'm going to tell you: I know you're going to make mistakes. I know you're going to mess up. But the one thing I hope for you, like I hope for my kids, is that you don't do anything that's going to scar you for life. All of that starts at a young age. Your parents, I know, have taught you right from wrong. But there comes a time in your life when you have to make a decision for yourself as to how you're going to operate. How is your moral compass going to function when you have a tough decision to make? Is your moral compass going to be pointed in the right direction, or is it going to be broken and pointing south?

My upbringing—having my parents love me, care for me, direct me while I was young helped me to make wise decisions. Like I said before, I didn't always make the best choices, but none of those choices scarred me for life. The decisions I have to make now as an adult are just a little bit easier because I know where my foundation came from.

Athletics

Another are of my life that had a great impact on me was athletics. That's what I love about being here at Landon: athletics is such a big part of your daily life. Even if you don't do a competitive sport, you still have to participate in some form of athletics. Athletics was a big part of my life. I was a one-sport athlete when I was younger and became a multisport athlete as I got older.

During those early years as a football player, there was a coach I still talk to until this day. He coached me since I was 7 years old until I left the Boys & Girls Club. His name is Mr. Lou Pepper, and he had such an influence on my life that to this day, I still speak to him. I reconnected with him on Facebook, and we got to talking about some of the old things. And the biggest thing I remembered about Mr. Pepper is that he taught me how to be a good teammate. Mr. Pepper taught us how to compete, how to respect our coaches, how to respect one another.

There are certain things your coaches are sharing with you right now, and you may not realize how important they are until you get a little bit older. We've gone down the path that you're on right now. We've gotten to see the end of the road. I encourage you to take the lessons and advice your coaches are giving you in regards to teamwork and respect — respect in each other and respect in the game. All of these are things that go beyond athletics. When we're shooting the ball, throwing passes for touchdowns, or scoring a goal, we think that it's all about athletic ability. But these things you're learning from your coaches are going to continue to impact you when you can't put a ball in a basket anymore, when you can't run a football, when you can't kick a soccer ball. Your athletic ability will fade, but the lessons you learn throughout the process will last a lifetime. This is why I am so passionate about coaching at Landon. Our basketball players drive me crazy, but I keep coming back because I know there is something inside these guys that I can bring out.

Academics

Academics have also had a great impact on my moral compass. I did my work and got good grades. I was a procrastinator. Throughout my academic life, I've always tried to do my best. Part of the reason I tried to excel academically is that I didn't want to be considered a "dumb jock." I want to be good on the football field and basketball court, as well as in the top classes. Because of that drive, which my mom and dad had instilled in me — they taught me about hard work, about doing the right thing, about being intentional in the things that I do — I was able to excel in those areas.

But I didn't always get it right. When I got to college, I was a decent student, but I didn't do as well as I could have. Because of that — because of the choices I made — even though I got a degree in computer science, I couldn't get a job afterward. There were some circumstances that went along with that: We had the Gulf War and people were getting laid off, so I was competing with other college students as well as people who had 20 years' experience. However, the kids who had the good grades coming out of college were able to get jobs, but I wasn't. I share that with you because you have to understand that the things you're doing right now are going to impact your future. You can't see it or understand it right now, but it's going to happen. What I hope for you is that the things that you're learning, the decisions you're making are going to enhance your future and not bring your future down.

Many of you know that I played college basketball. Because I did not excel academically throughout college, I had to make some decisions as I got closer to my last year. And one of the decisions I had to make was that I had to leave the basketball team. I didn't get kicked off because of grades or anything like that; I had to leave because I had to make a choice about what my future needed to look like. I was not going to the NBA. I knew where my future was career-wise, and I knew in order for me to get to the places I wanted to get to, I needed to make sure I got my degree. With that decision, I needed to leave the basketball team and double up on some high-level classes during my last semester of school. During that process, I was able to re-learn how to work the right way. The reason that I was able to do that was because I already had it in my foundation. Because it was there, I was able to recall it and get back on the right track. My hope for you is that you don't get too far off the track that you're on because the farther you get away from the goals that you set, the harder it is to come back. But I believe that if the foundation is laid properly, you have a lot to build on.

Faith

The last thing I want to talk about to bring all of these things together is faith. My faith is part of my foundation and has helped guide me. Some of you know that I am an ordained minister and a pastor at my church. My hope is that when I said that, no one was like, "Man, he's a preacher?" Hopefully, what came into your mind was, "Yeah, I could see that." The reason I hope that is because I try to live my life the same whether I'm inside a church standing behind a pulpit or standing in a classroom teaching a group of students. I always try to do the right thing.

Do I always do the right thing, make the right decisions? No. No adult does. So don't look at us as though we're these perfect human beings because we're not. We make bad choices, just like you. We make easy things very hard sometimes, just like you. We make decisions that impact our families that are not always the best decisions. When you know right from wrong, you can always go back to that foundation and be in a position to make better choices.

Hopefully this analogy will help you understand how all things that happen in your life work together for your good. You see, life is a lot like a puzzle. When you open the box, you see all these individual pieces, all of these different shapes that are supposed to connect together in some way. You don't really know how these pieces go together. You don't know exactly how to start. Some of us start by getting all the edges and trying to build the outside first. Some of us get all the center pieces. Some of us try to piece all the light-colored pieces together in some kind of shape. Some of us take a look at all the pieces and decide not to even try, and put the pieces right back in the box.

No matter how any of us starts the puzzle, there is one thing all of us do before we put any of the pieces together: We look at the picture on the box. We look at the picture on the box because that's the finished product, a roadmap to show us what this thing should look like when we're all done. How sweet would life be if we could see the finished product of our life? How much better would our decisions be if we could see the finished product of our life?

The things that you experience in your life are a bunch of different puzzle pieces that we just let out of the box. At the end of the day, those pieces will come together to make who you are. You just have to trust the process, trust what you're learning, trust what you know, and understand that — just like the picture on the front of that puzzle box — one day we'll be able to look back at your life and see a picture put together with all of the pieces that come from your experiences: the good pieces, the bad pieces, the ugly pieces, the pretty pieces. All of those things wrapped up together will make you who you are. My hope is that all the experiences you have gone through and will go through will not only shape your moral compass but also have your moral compass pointing north.