OPINION

When you think you're 'there', you're not

KEEP CLIMBING: The truth is, there's not much you can do for someone who thinks they're already virtuous.
KEEP CLIMBING: The truth is, there's not much you can do for someone who thinks they're already virtuous.

Parents tell me that discipline has really changed since they were kids. A mother recently said to me something along the lines of: "How do you punish kids these days?

"You're not allowed to shout at them; that's emotional abuse. You can't give them a smack; that's physical abuse.

"You can't send them to their room; that's false imprisonment.

"About the only thing you can do is take their iPad away from them!"

This doesn't seem like much of a punishment to me - given that when we were kids, we grew up without an iPad and we never complained. For things unknown there is no desire.

Still, parents assure me this is the worst punishment of them all.

I'm told kids these days would literally rather go to jail with their tablet or smartphone than freely travel the world without it.

Don't kids know that in jail your phone gets confiscated? You're not even allowed a pre-incarceration tweet: "@Long Bay. No FB. No YT. #SoooooBored!"

Last week, we heard of the death of Ivan Milat, who was perhaps the most evil man in Australia. Coincidentally, on the very same day, the head of ISIS and perhaps the most evil man in the world, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, also died.

The very evil always have one thing in common. They ironically claim they are innocent and even good.

Perhaps it's an over simplification to say "the good think they are bad, and the bad think they are good", but I've been surprised over the years how often this has been true.

There's not much you can do for someone who thinks they're already virtuous. There's unlimited possibilities to the person who wants to strive to be virtuous, but realises they're not there yet.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported last week that police tried eight times to obtain a deathbed confession from Milat - to give the families of his victims some small amount of peace - but Milat refused.

It was a similar situation in February when the first of the Anita Cobby murders died at Long Bay jail hospital.

No one could persuade him to simply say sorry and give a modicum of peace and closure after 33 years to her still-grieving family.

In the case of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, he not only saw himself as not guilty of evil, but a hero. A misconception many soldiers and war criminals have fallen into. I think that if any one of us thinks we are so good that we couldn't possibly do anything bad, that is dangerous.

Jesus said "I have come to call sinners, not the virtuous".

There's not much you can do for someone who thinks they're already virtuous. There's unlimited possibilities to the person who wants to strive to be virtuous, but realises they're not there yet.

I always feel uncomfortable when people get up and give their conversion story, especially when they go into the details of their sordid past.

I went to a talk by a nun who was a prison chaplain. She said people who like to tell others about their past crimes do it because they like to relive them.

It's interesting that St Patrick began his book with "I, Patrick, a sinner, the least of all the faithful" but he doesn't go into detail. St Paul referred to himself as "the greatest sinner" but he never said what those sins were. I think the biggest anomaly of the public conversion story is the presumption by the person testifying that they are "saved" now, that they are "there". And once you think you're "there", you're not.

It's not about seeing ourselves as "bad" but rather, always striving to be better. It's those who think they need to get fitter who actually go to the gym.

It's those who think they need to learn more who actually study. And it's those who think they need to be better who actually do good things.

Jay North, the original actor who played Denis the Menace, found life after television hard.

He wanted retribution on people he believed deserved it and even wrote up a list of people to kill.

Eventually, North realised it was he himself who was not good.

He not only got help, he spent the rest of his life helping many others.

Realising we're not great yet is the first step to greatness.