Perhaps one of the greatest challenges we have as individuals is that of making the right choices.

Parents have the awesome task of teaching their children to make intelligent decisions while under their direct supervision from birth to adulthood. Parents are their children’s first teachers.

Among other important matters, parents have the responsibility to teach and model appropriate behaviors at home as well as in public. Discipline starts in the home, and it is imperative that mothers and fathers start at birth to condition their children on what the expectations are for all family members.

Distinctions should be drawn on what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Respect for the laws of our society, school rules, respect for all humanity and, last but not least, where faith is valued, the respect and obedience of the commandments of God should be taught.

We commit an injustice that results in serious consequences when we lead children and others into thinking that “freedom” means being able to do what you want to do.

Parents and other family caregivers need to use wisdom and understanding to help children and others, including some adults, realize that problems will arise when the expectations of the home are in conflict with the expectations of the school, business, or other setting, including the faith houses.

Wisdom is the ability to discern a proper course of action after sifting through information to determine fact from fiction. Intelligent choices are made also after having gained an understanding of the possible consequences of the options given.

Educators will tell you that the levels of learning include knowledge, comprehension (understanding), application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation, in ascending order. The contents of the SAT and ACT require students to function at the application level. One must use knowledge and understanding of concepts with critical thinking skills to score successfully in one's efforts.

Likewise in life, we must do our best to equip ourselves mentally and physically to meet the challenges that we are certain to face in various situations. What we become in life is a function of the education we receive from birth to adulthood. The process of developing a self fit to live with and a work to live for has everything to do with the choices we make in terms of values, standards and purpose.

Whitney Young, a former director of the National Urban League, said, “It’s better to be prepared for an opportunity and not have one than to have an opportunity and not be prepared.”

In 1991, Shelby Steele said, “Opportunity follows struggle. It follows effort. It follows hard work. It doesn’t come before.”

I want many of us to realize that doing your best is always a win-win choice. Excellence has more to do with making decisions with wisdom and understanding than anything else. Opportunities that come our way must be superseded by superior efforts and positive attitudes. One may adopt a position that “no one can tell me what to do.” OK. Go ahead and dress any kind of way you choose. Choose to be defiant and disobedient rather than self-disciplined and cooperative. Go ahead and choose not to be taught or trained in a skill. Go ahead using profane language rather than developing a vocabulary.

Go ahead. Proceed.

However, you must know this: For all of our actions, there are consequences that will either positively or negatively impact our character. One of the major differences between success and failure is effort. Understand that somewhere it is stated that “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom; and with all thy getting get understanding.”

When all else fails, remember “The Serenity Prayer.”

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

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Allie E. Brooks Jr. is the past superintendent of Florence School District One and the former principal of Wilson High School.

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