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The Moral Compass

Stories for a Life's Journey


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About The Book

The Moral Compass is the inspiring and instructive companion volume to William J. Bennett's bestselling work, The Book of Virtues, offering many more examples of good and bad, right and wrong, in great works from literature and in exemplary stories from history.

Organized by the stages along life's journey, these stories and poems serve as reference points on a moral compass, guiding the reader through the ethical and spiritual challenges along the pathway of life: leaving home, entering into marriage, easing the burdens of others, nurturing one's children, and fulfilling the obligations of citizenship and leadership.

Drawn from familiar Western history and mythology as well as a wide selection of tales and folklore from Asia, Africa, and Latin America, the stories in The Moral Compass are literary and evocative, designed to inspire as well as instruct. Complete with informative introductions and notes, The Moral Compass is an indispensable guide that will help family members meet the challenges of life at any age.


Chapter 1

All children need bread and shelter. But a true home, of course, is much more than that. Children also need love and order and, because they are not born knowing the difference between right and wrong, a place where they can begin to develop a moral sense. The transmission of virtues is one important reason for a home, and attention to the virtues is one of the important ties that bind a family together. "It is the peculiarity of man, in comparison with the rest of the animal world," Aristotle wrote, "that he alone possesses a perception of good and evil, of the just and the unjust, and of other similar qualities; and it is association in these things which makes a family."

And so home is the place where we receive our first instruction in the virtues. It is our first moral training ground, the place where we can come to know right from wrong through the nurturing and protective care of those who love us more than anyone else. Our character takes shape under the guidance of the dos and don'ts, the instructions, the exhortations we encounter around the house. Equally important, our moral sense emerges under the influence of examples set by mother, father, sisters, and brothers. In the familiar world of home and hearth, we learn the habits of virtue that will fortify us when we venture into the world.

In this chapter we find some of these lessons of home and hearth. We find family members helping each other along, and looking toward each other for help. We find siblings showing what "brotherhood" and "sisterhood" really mean. We see children learning about chores and responsibilities and self-sacrifice, and learning to help parents out of love. We encounter young hearts giving loving obedience. We witness the growth of conscience, of a desire to live up to the expectations of those who love us. We witness how our loyalty and courage and perseverance see families through hard times with a love that can overcome any number of obstacles.

Of course, no home is perfect. Home can be the place where we get our first look at vices as well as virtues. And, unfortunately, some homes are simply not good places -- not all homes are havens; not all hearths have a warm glow. But all homes teach lessons, even if they are the wrong kind of lessons. And so even though many homes do not resemble the best ones we find in these pages, the stories here are no less valuable because they give us all something at which to aim. They remind us of the kind of conditions families need and the attention children deserve. We set these examples before our eyes in order to keep raising our sights and our efforts.

These first lessons stay with us long after we leave home. In our affections and our memories, they remain forever a part of us, often the most cherished part of us. "Where shall a man find sweetness to surpass his own home and parents?" Odysseus asks in Homer's Odyssey. "In far lands he shall not, though he find a house of gold." The early experiences of home become a moral compass point, guiding and instructing us for the rest of life's journey.

And in one sense, the moral journey that begins with leaving home is the search for opportunities to offer others the same nurture and love we received in our own childhood. The memory of home becomes a past, an experience, an ideal we seek to re-create in our later lives, and in the new lives we shepherd into the world. We build our own homes, offer our own lessons, nurture our own children in the strength and knowledge once gained beside the first warm hearth of home.

Hush, Little Baby

The first notes we hear are those cradle songs that spring from a parent's heart. Lullabies abound in every age and every culture. By such promises of nurture and protection babies find trust to rest and grow.

Hush, little baby, don't say a word,

Papa's going to buy you a mockingbird.

And if that mockingbird won't sing,

Papa's going to buy you a diamond ring.

If that diamond ring turns brass,

Papa's going to buy you a looking glass.

If that looking glass gets broke,

Papa's going to buy you a billy goat.

If that billy goat won't pull,

Papa's going to buy you a cart and bull.

If that cart and bull turns over,

Papa's going to buy you a dog named Rover.

If that dog named Rover won't bark,

Papa's going to buy you a horse and cart.

If that horse and cart fall down,

You'll still be the sweetest baby in town!

Cradle Song

Johannes Brahms

Lullaby and good night, with roses bedight,

With lilies bedecked, is baby's wee bed.

Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blest,

Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blest.

Sweet and Low

Alfred Tennyson

Sweet and low, sweet and low,

Wind of the western sea,

Low, low, breathe and blow,

Wind of the western sea!

Over the rolling waters go,

Come from the dying moon, and blow,

Blow him again to me;

While my little one, while my pretty one, sleeps.

Sleep and rest, sleep and rest,

Father will come to thee soon;

Rest, rest, on mother's breast,

Father will come to thee soon;

Father will come to his babe in the nest,

Silver sails all out of the west

Under the silver moon:

Sleep, my little one, sleep, my pretty one, sleep.
Copyright © 1995 by William J. Bennett

About The Author

Photo Credit:

Dr. William J. Bennett is one of America’s most influential and respected voices on cultural, political, and educational issues. Host of The Bill Bennett Show podcast, he is also the Washington Fellow of the American Strategy Group. He is the author and editor of more than twenty-five books. Dr. Bennett served as the secretary of education and chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities  under  President  Ronald  Reagan  and  as  director  of  the  Office  of  National  Drug  Control  Policy  under  President  George  Herbert  Walker Bush.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (July 1, 2008)
  • Length: 832 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781416558460

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