I was reading an article this weekend in the paper about politicians getting together to discuss the decline in traditional values. The article made me think a lot about the “traditional values” that have declined or have been entirely eliminated from our culture.
Of course, the politicians are mostly talking about the nuclear family. As a divorced (and remarried) woman who is a working mom, with many gay and lesbian friends and a generally non-traditional attitude toward family life, I can’t agree with the politicians’ perspective. However, there IS a perspective I would like to put forward: in my opinion, there has been a sad decline in what we think of as “traditional values.” In my view, the decline is in the amount of kindness, compassion and understanding we show toward one another. A survey I read about some time ago asked 3rd through 5th grade children about “the Golden Rule.” Most of the children thought the rule applied to having gold! Children aren’t being taught about treating one another the way they would like to be treated and about showing true kindness and care toward one another. This point has been driven home to me as I have a child entering middle school this week. His older sister has regaled him with stories about how he will be “abused and tortured” because he has red hair. She tells him “No one likes Gingers” (“ginger” is the name given to any red-headed child). My son doesn’t sleep at night, worrying about how he is already disliked and he hasn’t even stepped foot in the school yet! Isn’t the Golden Rule the kind of “traditional values” we want to bring back? What happened to the times when a group of bullies in 6th grade was a rarity? I still remember the names of the three girls who were the “bullies” in my school. It was very uncommon years ago – now it is more of the “norm.” To hear my daughter tell it, it’s a constant experience to have someone – even multiple people – hate you for some unknown reason. And now it can all be done electronically and anonymously, 24 hours per day! And in our culture – our collective propensity to anger, impatience and generally not giving someone else a break – are these “values” we’ve all agreed to? Read any blog post or YouTube response, and the vitriol and hate that are expressed are frightening. People have negative opinions about what others do on a regular basis. Whatever happened to taking the time to put on another person’s shoes, listening with compassion to their story, and having a heartfelt and kind reaction to help someone in need? We may respond when there is an earthquake or destruction in the world, but do we respond on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis? So, let’s ask ourselves – is it really the breakdown of the nuclear family that has created this cultural shift? I think not. My two best friends from childhood, who are two of the nicest women I know as adults, with beautiful families of their own, were the products of divorce back in the day where it was rare. Neither of them even knew their dads for a lot of their lives. Both of these women espouse kindness, care and a willingness to be a “neighbor” and a friend to those in need. I have no “evidence” that says a non-traditional family leads to an angry, hateful and judgmental adult! Maybe we each want to think about how much kindness we’ve shown this week to someone else. What kinds of seeds are we planting in our own lives, and with those we interact with on a daily basis? Do we live the Golden Rule ourselves? Do we take the time to care about someone else, or do we rush through our days with nary a thought about another person’s troubles? When we were growing up, my mom would tell stories about how poor she was as a child. Her family would go days and days without food, and my grandmother would get them to hold hands and pray that someone would bring them a meal. Inevitably a knock would come on the door and someone would show up with a meal for that evening. Could we imagine having a neighbor show up at our door with food to share “just because?” I’m not suggesting there aren’t many wonderful souls in our world, or that many of us don’t do giving, loving things on a daily basis. I’m just suggesting that we start talking about ”traditional values” in terms of being kind, tolerant and compassionate to our fellow humans. Imagine a world where we put our judgments aside and a red-headed kid was just that – red-headed. What would it be like for our kids to go to school and know they were safe and cared about? We could bring this about if we all desired it to happen and we acted on it each day. This week, be a part of the change you want to see in the world. Practice the Golden Rule.