Adults without a compass

Published 9:18 pm Monday, October 6, 2014

By Joseph L. Bass

Adults without a compass lack direction. They move from one shallow, interesting activity to another.

Such people often do not do well in the American economy, never realizing their potential and never earning the income they could have.

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People without a compass develop from childhoods in which they have few opportunities to make important decisions and learn from their mistakes. Two situations foster the development of these people — children seriously restricted by their parents and people that have had everything provided for them by government.

My first college roommate was an adult without a compass. Ralph grew up on his family’s farm between two small towns in Oklahoma. I knew them all from childhood. I used to spend several weeks with them during most summers.

Ralph’s father was very strict. He made nearly all of Ralph’s decisions until he went to college. His dad was very vocal about me never amounting to anything, because my parents allowed me too much freedom.

One time when we were 17 we went bowling, but Ralph neglected to get permission. Someone that knew how strict his dad was called asking about Ralph and me bowling without adult supervision.

On the way back to the family farm we met Ralph’s dad speeding down the dirt road. He was mad, red in the face, and I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He shouted Ralph into submission, letting him know he would be a failure in life because of his bad ways. I had to go home a few days early because I was thought to be a bad influence on Ralph’s character.

Of course when we arrived at college, Ralph, who had never made a serious decision on his own, was without a compass. He needed to study and make the grades he was capable of. But soon he met up with another compass-less person who played pool. By the end of the spring semester Ralph was a really good pool player, but he failed most classes.

Ralph escaped from his father and worked in a low-wage job while going to a night trade school. Eventually he did OK in life, though he never achieved the potential he was capable of and never made much of an income. But he treated his children much differently than he was treated while growing up.

Adults without a compass also develop from being raised on welfare. Welfare recipients never have to make important decisions and learn from mistakes. Government provides food, health care, housing, nearly everything needed.

If your bedroom window is cracked, the housing authority will fix it. If you have ants, the housing authority will kill them. You don’t have to mow your grass; the housing authority mows it. You grow up never having to make important decisions, just as Ralph was never allowed to make any.

Growing up on welfare is a serious impediment. We need to find ways to transition from welfare to more helpful approaches of developing adults with a compass. People cannot develop into useful adults until they can make their own decisions from an early age and learn from them.

Joseph L. Bass is the executive director of ABetterSociety.Info Inc., a nonprofit organization in Hobson. Email him at