As a Dryden High School student many, many years ago, I fondly recall one of my best classes—civics taught by Mrs. Weingartz— which focused on government, politics and good citizenship. Included in the class was instruction on nationalism, the idea of country over party, and how Americans patriotically banded together to end the horrific polio epidemic of the time. We heard stories of how many voluntarily left their jobs, home and family to enlist and go off to war, etc. Citizens had commitments to democratic ideals, personal responsibility and sacrifice for the common good—things much larger than one’s own self.
Today we witness an erosion of many of these character count principles of the past. An alarming number of us have clearly endorsed the “Age of the Anti-Hero,” where high-ranking political scoundrels, con artists and outright lawbreakers are shockingly admired, exalted and defended. On the flip side, during this COVID-frenzied time we see public health officials and school personnel intimidated and bullied while trying to support and protect our children and our communities.
While a lot of the national conversation focuses on personal liberty, or one’s freedom to act and speak freely, it’s abundantly evident that far too many of us are immersed only in ourselves (“my rights” and “my liberty”), with little or no concern for others, or for the common good. Arguably, it has much to do with character, or just plain lack of it.
As we cry for unrestricted freedom, with little or no accompanying personal responsibility, we embrace democracy only when it fits us, and flatly reject it when it doesn’t. We haughtily support strict law-and-order mandates for others, but not ourselves. We constantly cite the Constitution without really knowing what it says while trying to nullify the votes of those not politically aligned with us. In the meantime, too many of us have relegated civility, empathy, honesty and other positive personal traits to a far-distant second compared to party-power and the state of the economy even while an excessive number of those aforementioned “leaders” have been criminally charged, indicted or jailed.
No doubt, Mrs. Weingartz would likely be aghast if she were with us today. Regardless, I believe she would be calling for mandatory core civics classes in all our nation’s schools, required military/public service, and a sense of renewed personal sacrifice. In closing, we would be wise to consider the profound, cautionary words of Charles Colson, former Nixon advisor and reformed Watergate participant:
“Societies are tragically vulnerable when the men and women who compose them lack character. A nation or culture cannot endure for long unless it is undergirded by common values such as valor, public-spiritedness, respect for others and for the law; it cannot stand unless it is populated by people who will act on motives superior to their own immediate interest. When even one individual lacks the character and inner restraints necessary to subject his or her own passions to the common good, society as a whole is threatened.”
Thank you, Mr. Colson, for eloquently stating what so many patriotic Americans already keenly feel. Spot on.