The American Dilemma and How We Can Fix It

Posts tagged ‘family’

THE REAL THANKSGIVING

The final assembly at school before the Thanksgiving Holiday had concluded.  As in previous years, we students put on a presentation about the Pilgrims and that first day they recognized for solemn Thanksgiving.  And they had much for which to be thankful – mostly at the hands of their neighbors the Native Americans who had rescued them from likely starvation.  This program, which our parents attended, always concluded with the following hymn:

It never occurred to me that Thanksgiving day had not been celebrated continuously since the Pilgrims arrived in 1620.  I also was unaware that the Pilgrims when they had first arrived on these shores were primarily responsible for their own dire situation.

When they first arrived in the New World, the Pilgrims adopted a communal way of governance – “To each according to his needs.”  Sadly, even five centuries ago, there were some who did the work and others who benefited from the labor of their fellows.  It was only when the “communal land” was divided up and allocated to each family that the young colony began to prosper – as people took responsibility for themselves.  That is a lesson that does not fit well into the present political, statist mindset.  Nor does the fact that it is to a loving God that we are addressing ourselves with our songs of thankfulness.

Since George Washington first proclaimed his statement of thanksgiving and President Lincoln designated a day of National Thanksgiving as an official holiday, the fact that it was to a Divine provenance that we as a people were to offer our thanks was a clear and constant theme.  That was recognized in our school program and no one whether Christian or Jew, agnostic or atheist seemed to object.  At least I never heard from those who might have.

My family also recognized this in our small Thanksgiving ritual dinner by inviting those who had no families of their own to share our meal and be a part of our family.  Before Dad would begin carving the turkey, he would express his gratitude for the blessings he had received and would invite everyone around the table to do the same if they chose to do so.  Only when the last person had spoken would we begin to eat.

In my own way I tried to carry on some variation of this tradition.  For many years a number of us from the church in Chicago where I was a parishioner would wake up early and by four o’clock in the morning we would be working to prepare a complete traditional Thanksgiving meal that we would would serve to almost two hundred homeless people at a local shelter.  When the last person had been served her or his plate, we would sit down with them and join them for this special meal.

But it was a sad realization that while we had fed these people for one day, we had done very little to change their lives.  And it was difficult to hold on to a sense of Thanksgiving as we looked out over this ragtag, unwashed group of people, many of whom were recovering from their evening sedative of cheap whiskey or bad wine.

If there were any sense of hope it came from the few who turned to us and with sad but grateful eyes said, “Thank you,” as they left to return to their cardboard shelters – insufficient protection against the biting, blowing cold winds.  But in the back of our minds we knew the fate that they had chosen, willingly or not, and knew that there was a warm apartment and a comfortable bed waiting for each of us.

It seems to me that over the years we have done everything within our power to secularize, anesthetize and sterilize Thanksgiving.  It might better be described as a “Day of Carbohydrates and Gluttony, enhanced by a thorough immersion in football and concluded with a bout of  mindless midnight spending at the mall.”  Although I would be remiss not to note that in their attempt to suck the lucre out of the consumer’s purses and wallets, stores are opening even earlier than usual.

Given our abandonment of principle and our attempt to turn the sacred into the profane, it does not surprise me that a group of atheists, unmindful of the basis on which America was founded, have selected the Friday following Thanksgiving to launch a billboard campaign, boasting their credo, “Good without God.”  I should suggest that for the sake of consistency, they should have spelled God with a lower case “g.”

The great thing about living in America is that everyone is entitled to his opinion – and I am delighted that this atheist contingent have the ability to offer theirs.  I take no offense at their ministrations.  But, in the spirit of American fairness, I do expect the same courtesy that they receive from me and others who have a religious mindset when it comes to expressing ourselves and our beliefs.

Now if that were to come to pass, that would truly be a reason for Thanksgiving.

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HEROES AND ZEROS

It was Sunday in the late fall and my parents waited for their ten year old to finish Sunday school so that we could go home for a nice lunch.  Because Mom and Dad paid close attention to me, they knew when I wasn’t feeling my usual perky self.  And that Sunday was one of those days.

We had been given the assignment of learning the Ten Commandments for that Sunday’s class and I had done my assignment well, although I wasn’t quite sure what that adultery one was all about.  But during our recitation of them, I was really struck by the first one – and that was what had caused my bad attitude – “Thou shalt have no other gods before Me.”

Suddenly during class it struck me.  I wanted to be God but I couldn’t be – and I thought that was annoyingly unfair.  I didn’t realize it at the time but this was my introduction to hubris – although I wasn’t familiar with the word and certainly had no idea what it meant.

I remember that over the next several weeks as I recited my childhood prayers, rather than beginning with Heavenly Father, I might have better addressed them To Whom It May Concern.  After all, by praying to God I was merely admitting to my subordinate status and empowering a Deity who was, by definition, already empowered.  I was caught in the Charlie Brown and the football syndrome.

Fortunately, I got help with my conundrum.  After several days of allowing me to stew on my own, one night after dinner my parents sat me down to ask what was bothering me.  What they said isn’t important.  It was the very act of taking the time and showing their concern and love that got me started back on the right path.

Well, I grew up and got over my God-envy.  As I thought about it, I really didn’t feel that I was qualified for the job, nor did I want the responsibility.  There were just far too many sparrows to look after – and they seemed easier to deal with than most of the humans I encountered along the way.

It’s a difficult and narrow path between wanting to be important and believing that everything you touch, do or say is an achievement by virtue of the fact that you touched, did or said it.  Perhaps that is a lesson that has never been learned by those who believe that their only hope of attaining fame is by breaking the rules that God and society have laid down for us to follow.  Maybe that is the ultimate consequence of the kind of hubris that I experienced as a child.

We live in a society where those who come from traditional families and hold to traditional values are soon going to be moved to the “endangered species list.”  Those who celebrate the change to the “do it if it feels good” syndrome rejoice in their newly found freedom.  We find them in sports, politics and Hollywood.  These are our new gods and the role models we have offered our children.

Should we be surprised when we read stories about professional athletes on trial for murder; those in office who betray the public trust by committing  financial fraud; or television stars overdosing on heroin?  Should we be surprised that we are raising children who take out their anger by killing their teachers or shooting their classmates?

There are heroes in our society, people who conduct themselves with quiet dignity and respect for their fellow men.  Most of those go unsung and unnoticed.  They are people who never hesitate to give and are a little embarassed to receive.  They are people whom we would love to have as friends and neighbors.

And there are those who have never grown out of their God-envy complexes, who flash their way across our news stories for a moment and then are as quickly forgotten.  They are people who never give of themselves but expect the adulation, praise and gifts of others – and whatever they receive is never enough.  They are people whom we would avoid as acquaintances.  They are zeros.

And we all know that if at the end of the day the scoreboard has a tally of zero by your name, you need to work on improving your game.

“WHO YOU GONNA BELIEVE?”

With the Vice Presidential debate on Thursday evening now a part of history I found it interesting that the President’s latest ad asks the question, “Who you gonna believe?”

The thrust of the ad is that Mitt Romney, that insidious successful millionaire, is planning on slashing the taxes of his fellow successful millionaires.   He will pass on the cost of the money this saves them to the remaining middle class who have survived four years of Obamanomics, by increasing their taxes $2500 per household.

This is fear in advertising at its absolute worst.

Let’s think about the scenario that the President paints in his ad.  You are already a multi-millionaire and this year you have another decent year.  You earn $10 million for your efforts and on your investments.   Depending on the sources of your income, that should leave you with about $7 million or so in pocket change.  Does any one of my readers know how they would possibly spend $7 million if they were given the opportunity?  And, of course, our multi-millionaire has already accumulated a great deal of wealth that goes beyond this year’s income.

So ask yourself the question.  If you would be hard pressed to spend $7 million on things that you really want, how would you spend the $7.2 million that the ad suggests you would have under the “Romney tax plan?”

Well, that’s all theoretical.  But let’s look at some numbers which are suggested by the ad and which Vice President Biden offered in the debate.

The Veep says that this scheme is designed to benefit 110,000 wealthy tax payers at the expense of all middle class tax payers.  Each of the wealthy would get a $200,000 tax cut – and every middle class family will get a $2500 tax increase.

If you do the math which underlies this statement, here’s what you will find.  According to Vice President Biden, the United States of America, out of our population of 310,000,000, has a mere 8.8 million families who are “middle class”.

I realize that things have been tough for everyone under President Obama but is the Vice President suggesting that is the totality of the middle class that is left in this country?  If that is true, that is sufficient enough indictment to throw the two of them out of office.

Let’ return to the debate for a minute.  Frankly, I was uninspired by both participants for different reasons.

I have heard Rep. Ryan speak on many occasions and have been impressed with the sincere manner in which he delivers his information.  By contrast, I thought he seemed very “mechanical” in the debate.  Perhaps that is because it was his first experience or perhaps because the main focus was on foreign policy.  I am not making excuses for him because “it is what it is”.  I have heard him do far better and was a little disappointed.

I felt insulted by the demeanor which the Vice President projected.  I thought he was rude, condescending and generally obnoxious.  He obviously has a wealth of experience, (he told us that several times) and I felt he would have better served his cause by simply delivering his message in a forthright and factual manner.  I half expected him at some point to turn to Ryan and say, “Listen, Sonny …”

He also had the annoying habit of starting to answer a question and then, without finishing his statement, change the subject.  This is the typical tactic of the veteran politician who either doesn’t know the answer or doesn’t want to offer an answer to a question.   If you taped the debate, I suggest you watch it again to see what I mean.  I counted six separate instances of it in the 45 minutes that the Vice President held the floor.

Well, according to those who are politically smarter than I, Ryan slightly edged out the Vice President – but it was, in essence, a draw.  But there was one part of the debate that I thought was most interesting and that was the discussion about abortion.

For the first time in U. S. history we have Vice Presidential candidates on both tickets who are Roman Catholic.  It’s common knowledge that the official view of the Roman Catholic Church is that abortion constitutes murder of the unborn.  Both the Vice President and Rep. Ryan are aware of that.

Ryan offered his explanation of why he is opposed to abortion from a personal standpoint.  He referred to his unborn first child’s ultrasound when she was only the size of a bean – but he could see her heart beat.  He went on to explain that because of this experience, he and his wife had nicknamed her, “Bean”.

The Vice President approached his support for abortion in what could easily have been misinterpreted as an almost statesmanlike way.  While he would never personally have a child aborted, he explained that other people did not accept his Catholic theology of life beginning at conception.  Therefore, it would be wrong for him to impose his personal beliefs on them.

There is a problem inherent with that statement.

Some people believe that murdering another adult – if it suits their purpose and is the way for them to attain their personal ends – is perfectly acceptable behavior.  You have only to read a newspaper on any given day to know that is true.  Thumb to the section covering the ongoing violence among members of the Mexican drug cartels.

Civilized societies dating back thousands of years have generally frowned on that behavior.  The Roman Catholic church considers murder to be so serious that it is classified as a “mortal sin”.

But if we take the Vice President at his word, I can only presume that he similarly is opposed to all the laws on the books, in every state and every jurisdiction, which punish adults who commit murder.  Even though  his Catholic upbringing informs him that it is wrong for him to murder someone, he shouldn’t impose that belief on others who hold a different view on the subject, just  as he refuses to do in the case of abortion.  Or is imposing his Catholic beliefs something which he only selectively declines to do?

Of course, the Vice President’s quasi-libertarian view on the subject of abortion introduces an obvious corollary issue.  If it is wrong for those who oppose abortion to impose their will on others, is it not equally wrong for those who favor abortion to require those who find it immoral to pay for it with their tax dollars in contravention to their conscience and right to Freedom of Religion?

Politicians promise a lot of things.  If you’re in your thirties or older and are the least observant, you will have noticed that those promises are very often empty.  While they sound good and encourage us to vote for them, hoping that they are sincere in their statements, the sad truth is that seldom is the case.

We have seen how “Hope and Change” have played out for four years of this administration.  In their ad, Obama/Biden asks the question, “Who you gonna believe?”

And we should all be asking, “Who do you think has the ability, understanding and committment to deliver?”

 

ON CLOISTERED VIRTUE

During the Reformation, the concept of monasticism came under serious attack from several of the reformers.  Among those were John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli.  Calvin, in particular assailed the concept of monasticism and it is in large measure due to him that we have the term “cloistered virtue.”

Christians of that time viewed the world and our place in it as a struggle to enable that which was good in us to overcome that which was evil.  That the world offered many temptations then as it does now is undeniable.  But Calvin believed that only those who confronted evil and overcame it had the potential of being one of God’s elect.  Those who sat in monasteries, far away from the world’s allures could never overcome evil because they were secluded from it.

Allow me a simple example to explain his philosophy.

We will assume that consuming alcohol is a “sinful behavior”.  There are two people involved in our discussion.   One lives on a desert island where there is no alcohol.  As a result, he never consumes any.  But he is not virtuous because he never was in a position to consume it.  The second individual never takes a drink either.  But he lives in a home within a few minutes of six alehouses.  He is virtuous because demon rum was available to him yet he rejected its temptation.

Obviously, the world has changed in the last five hundred years.  There are few uninhabited desert islands left – and virtue is something we leave to dull people who really aren’t with it.  That brings me to the subject of this post which is the horrific shooting spree in Aurora, CO.

If you read my earlier post,  https://juwannadoright.wordpress.com/2012/06/09/i-have-an-idea/ you realize that I do not want to talk about the young man who was the perpetrator of this tragedy.  I don’t even really want to talk about the tragedy itself.  I want to talk about why this happened – and how we can minimize the likelihood of such events from recurring in the future.

But I am going to break my own rule for a moment and discuss a specific aspect of this event because it provides a good segue into my main discussion.  That is that there was a three month old infant who was among the injured.

What kind of people are these parents to bring a newborn who needs rest and quiet to a movie theater with sonic-level audio effects when their child should be at home sleeping?  How self-absorbed are these two – and what further damage will they inflict on this child as they “rear” him?  What sort of future is in store for this infant, growing up in a home lacking positive and thoughtful parental direction?

Okay, I’ve gotten that out of my system and I apologize for what may be a rant.  But I know that my parents took far greater responsibility with me than the parents of this newborn.  I was very fortunate.  And I admit that I’m more than a little mad that there are so many people roaming planet earth who possess the genitalia but not the common sense to bring children to life and then fail to nurture them.

We should not be surprised at the incident in Colorado.  We live in and extoll a culture of violence.  We are almost inured to it through the daily reports of how people, whether a rogue individual, a cadre of extremists, a gang or a government inflicts death on others.

When I say extoll, I mean that we stand in line to buy the newest and most violent video games.  We enjoy movies in which there is violence – the more gruesome the better.  We spectate at boxing matches which have produced numerous permanent brain injuries and wonder why some of those boxers go home and physically abuse their spouses and children.

Is there an explanation for our increased embrace of violence in our culture?  Some will suggest that we have abandoned our standards of decency – and I think there is much to argue for that viewpoint.  But I think there is something even more insidious – if you can imagine something that is yet worse.

There is an historical corollary between what is happening in America today and what befell the Roman Empire as it went into decline.  As the Empire started on its way to collapse, so did the moral standards that had been its underpinning.  Depravity and orgies replaced philosophy and reason.  And the games in the Coliseum became more and more gruesome.

“Panem et circenses.”  Bread and circuses.  It was described by Juvenal as a way those in authority used to distract the common people from the collapse that was imminently to befall them.  The uneducated can easily be lead down the path that leads to destruction.  And there is no one more willing to initiate a policy of distraction than a politician who is looking to hold on to his own job.

So is there anything we can do to reverse this trend?

We can elect people to represent us who hold to high standards of ethics and actually serve as examples to the rest of us through their conduct. And we can rid ourselves of those who talk the game but prove through their actions that they are unworthy of our support.

We can refuse to buy any violent computer games and demand of those companies that create them that they stop producing them, explaining our reasons for boycotting their products.

We can stay home and read books that have guided mankind for centuries rather than sit and watch worthless drivel in our movie theaters and explain to Hollywood that unless they elevate the quality of their product we will not patronize them.

We can turn off our cable boxes and instead of exposing our children and ourselves to a constant stream of violence and infidelity, we can support each family member in a loving environment.

We can insulate ourselves and our children, at least in small measure, from some of the atrocities of this world that we have begun to think are the norm rather than the exception.  Or we can allow our exposure to continue to all that is most dehumanizing and destructive.

Do we want to raise the next person who will randomly kill tens of people?  Or do we want to sequester our kids from exposure to the sort of behavior which leads to these acts of violence?  Isn’t that what responsible parenting is all about?

I guess it’s a question of whether we believe in the validity of “cloistered virtue.”  I think you know where I stand on this issue.

THE RIGHT PERSON FOR THE JOB

John got home a little later from work than usual and when he walked in the door he could smell the wonderful dinner that Mary was getting ready to serve the family that evening.  He thought to himself, “How lucky the kids and I are that I found such a wonderful woman to be my wife and their mother.”

As the family sat at the table, John asked Mary, as he usually did, how her day had gone.

She said that it had gone fine – other than the fact that she had experienced the worst tooth cleaning of her life.  John asked her what had happened.

Mary said, “Well, it’s probably my own fault.  I should never have gone to Al’s Auto Repair to get it done.”

Mary would occasionally cross over into the slightly-warped dark side of humor and John thought that statement was one such foray.  He put down his fork and he and the kids began laughing at the joke Mary had made.

Mary looked annoyed – which was unusual for her.  So she said, “You think that’s funny?”  Then she retracted her lips and to the shock of her family they could see that her once pearly-white teeth were streaked with grease.

Of course you realize I fabricated this story, my point being that it is important to try to select the right person for any particular job.  Perhaps even more frightening than Mary’s selecting someone totally incapable of doing what she needed done was that they actually attempted to do it knowing full well that they didn’t have the expertise.

I have hired a great many people over many years of owning my own business.  I always put a great deal of thought into the individuals who were interested in joining us because I felt that we had to be mutually-comfortable in the commitment we would make to each other.

I viewed our relationship not so much as one between employer/employee but as a marriage.  We had to be compatible and we had to share a basic philosophy and work ethic.  Lacking those elements, our relationship was ultimately doomed to failure.

As I’ve said in previous posts, I always viewed the failure of any employee as my failure – not his.  Either I had made a poor hiring decision based on what I perceived to be the nature and character and potential of the person whom I had hired; or I had failed to inculcate our corporate philosophy in that individual or they were unwilling to accept it.  Whatever the case, it necessarily meant that we would part ways – sometimes through my choice and at other times through theirs.

Letting an employee go was the part of my job that I hated the most.  It was difficult for me emotionally because I knew that my decision would have a major impact on the employee’s life – at least in the short term.  But I also had to consider that by getting rid of some dead wood the whole tree had a greater chance to survive and flourish.

Admitting that I had made a mistake was as difficult for me as it is for most of us.  But when you see the handwriting on the wall, an intelligent person should not fail to read and act on the message.

Have we hired the right person to lead this country?  To what can our employee, the President point as being justification for keeping his job?  Are things better or worse than they were when we voted for him based on what he said his nature and character and potential were?  If not, it’s time to prune the tree of the dead wood so that it has a greater chance of surviving and flourishing.

Admitting that we have made a mistake is always embarrassing.  Choosing to pretend that we haven’t is simply ignorant and is likely to lead to disaster.  Given those two options, I’ll select a moderate case of dealing with egg on my face.  Because I know, it’s always important to try to find the right person for the job.

THE GARBAGE DUMP

Chicago has a number of outstanding parks which provide a welcome breath of openness to the vertical sprawl of the city.  I was fortunate that I lived across the street from one of those, Jackson Park.

The park ran through a good portion of the southeast side of the city and incorporated the last remaining building from the Columbian Exposition, now re-named the Museum of Science and Industry.  It was the usual place that I took my dogs for their daily walks.

Because the park extended to Lake Michigan it was a popular venue for people to come and enjoy their weekends.  Picnickers appreciated the cool breezes during the summer and the well-maintained lawns that the Chicago Park District kept up with great diligence.

It was always difficult for me as a resident during the summers trying to find a parking space because of the inflow of people who came to the park.  But I learned to deal with it.  After all, these were public parks and I understood that we needed to make accommodation for all who wanted to enjoy them.

Some of those who visited on the weekend found their own solution to the parking issue.  They simply pulled their vehicles onto the lawn of the parks and left them there while they picnicked.  The fact that the city had installed “handicapped sidewalks” made access very easy as there were no curbs to surmount.  Of course, the city also posted signs that said, “No vehicles are permitted on park grounds,” but those went ignored.

Having your car directly by your picnic area was helpful in two ways.  It made it easy to unload the food the visitors had brought with them.  And for those who didn’t own a boom box they could simply crank up their car radio for their listening pleasure.  Generally the boom boxes blaring their “Gangsta rap” drowned out the relatively puny car radios.  The weekends always provided the visitors an opportunity to engage in a battle of “dueling cacophonies.”

The city had placed a large number of trash cans throughout the park, none of them more than perhaps twenty feet away from anyone enjoying a summer’s al fresco dining experience.  They largely went unused.  When I would take my dogs for their Sunday morning walk before church I had to watch carefully because of the debris that was left behind, littering the entire park within a few feet of the empty garbage cans.

On these walks I always saw a  few people carrying large plastic bags and wearing gloves, despite the heat.  They would sift through the trash laying on the ground in search of the valuable aluminum beer and soda cans which were the treasure they sought.

In searching the picnickers’ refuse they tended to spread it out even further through the park.  I had to be extremely watchful that neither of the dogs picked up any of the bones that lay all around.

The trash pickers returned early Monday, before the city’s Department of Streets and Sanitation and employees of the Parks Department came through and cleaned up the mess that had been created over the previous two days.  By Monday evening the park was once again immaculate – ready for the next weekend’s assault.

After seeing the same scenario repeat itself summer’s weekend after summer’s weekend over many years my sense of anger about this callous behavior slowly faded away into acceptance that it was going to happen.  The picnickers never disappointed me.

I guess it’s old-fashioned but  I was taught to respect other people and their property – and the parks were the property of all of us who lived in Chicago.  We had laws prohibiting parking in the parks; the City had done its job in providing receptacles for trash; and there was a curfew in the parks which generally was ignored by at least several hours – sometimes until the early morning.

If each of us took personal responsibility for our actions and thought about their implications on others, we wouldn’t need most of the rules and regulations we carry on our law books.  I’ve said before that it’s impossible to legislate morality – or even acceptable behavior.  I learned good behavior from my family, not a book of statutes.

It was the luck of the draw – but I guess I was fortunate.  Apparently many others didn’t fare so well.  Perhaps they had a different game plan handed to them at birth and through their upbringing.  Maybe they think that their mission in life is to turn all the beautiful spots on earth into a garbage dump.

They seem to be well on their way to accomplishing their goal.

BmprStck65688

If this doesn’t disturb you, you need to catch the next shuttle to your starship.

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