Character, values should drive the integrity of our leaders
Jan 4, 2023
“Listen to me, all you who are serious about right living and committed to seeking God. Ponder the rock from which you were cut, the quarry from which you were dug,” Isaiah 51.
Many think our nation is at something of a crossroads, moving in the wrong direction but unsure how to find a better path. To find one, we need better character in our people. A country can’t be maintained without trust in the integrity of leaders and basic institutions.
Looking back on a long life, I think the 1960s is when we got off track, when a whole generation was bored with “right living.” Well-off teenagers left comfortable homes, gathering together in a “free” hippie lifestyle, enjoying nature, rock music and flouting the sexual values of parents.
The older generation’s intense preoccupation with prosperity and materialism, while ignoring racism and serious poverty, probably contributed to their disillusionment. If interested in spirituality at all, they wanted another sort, perhaps transcendental experience with drugs. All of those factors continue to be at play in our country, and it’s not a good thing.
Pondering the rock from which we were cut takes us back to a much less wealthy rural America (downright primitive in South Dakota). Sheer survival required hard work beginning in childhood.
No one cultivated work as a virtue; it was a fact of life. Parents expected kids to share the burden and respect their elders, an ethic that continued through life.
For most of us no longer living off the land, it takes thought to develop good work habits in children, and it’s easier to indulge them. Yet, successful careers in America demand intense work, more than most countries.
Sloth is included among the “seven deadly sins.” I see rather a tragedy of wasted life, no enthusiasm, discipline or joy pursuing a meaningful purpose. But it can be deadly, leading to suicide or drug overdose. We can’t recreate the culture of the past. What then?
A column regarding successful parenting shared this: “Watch the bent of the child.” Determine what turns them on and encourage them to seriously pursue such interests with the hope it will lead to a career they love.
For our schools, I long for teachers to demand the best work possible of each child, no sloppiness, no cheating. Early emphasis on integrity and good behavior is important; students quickly judge what they can get away with.
I admit to difficulty being tough enough on piano students, yet reasonable in expectations, and greatly admire those who do it well. Kids love and respect coaches and teachers who help them excel, earning lasting self-esteem. We should prioritize education funds to recruit and reward great teachers; they’re needed everywhere.
All this is needed long-term effort but, short term, we must quickly deal with threats to the essence of American democracy. Freedom of speech and religion are in serious jeopardy now.
A foreign ideology entered our leading universities, distorting their purpose of providing the best possible education. How on earth did they move to group think and political correctness? I’ll research and write more columns on the way this ideology has infected everything, mainstream press rooms, corporate boards, even the justice system.
The potential for coercion already existed in regulatory agencies. Unelected people manning the FBI, IRS, agricultural, environmental and other agencies wield enormous power, which, if allowed to be abusive, infringes on basic freedoms.
Characteristic of leftist ideology is fear and hatred of religion, particularly Christianity. Its supporters wish to banish it from the public square, citing separation of church and state.
They’re actually fighting the original purpose of separation, which was to protect worship from government. As more citizens are silent about their faith or move from it altogether, we’re losing the absorption of good values — and reaping the consequences. Coerciveness in churches bears some responsibility for driving people away.
Jesus always allowed choice, inviting people to join him in abundant living or not.
The political extremes, left and right, acquire far too much attention and power. The majority of citizens, who reject the violence and coercion of extremes, must cease being silent, speak and act forcefully for values and leadership that will benefit the country. Evil and violence easily capture attention; social media’s algorithms enlarge conflict for profitability, which hurts democracy here and everywhere.
We must wake up to the fact that this is a worldwide struggle between maintaining our valuable freedoms or being forced to accept totalitarian rule.
Verna Benham, Kerrville resident, spent 20 years traveling the globe, as U.S. Foreign Service employee, then wife of foreign correspondent Joe Benham. She lived in Bolivia, Taiwan, Chile, Brazil and Argentina.