The following first appeared in Public Square Magazine.
To borrow a line from the musical Bye, Bye, Birdie, I ask, “What’s the matter with kids today? . . . Why can’t they be like we were, perfect in every way?”
I was a teenager in the 1960s. It was not easy growing up then. We had to deal with hippies’ rejection of materialism, Vietnam war protests, free sex, drugs, and rock and roll. One thing we did have, though, was a sense of right from wrong. We had role models on television and in the movies. We revered our founding fathers. We respected our history and the men and women who lived it. We didn’t expect these people to be saints, but we lauded them for what they accomplished to build America. Americans had a deep respect for the Boy Scouts and their leaders. Teaching school was a noble profession and police officers were the ones people called when there was trouble in their neighborhood.
All that has changed today. It’s as if America is upside down. The things that were once good about America are now considered bad. How did this happen?
I learned these things as a Boy Scout and later as a Boy Scout leader for over 40 years, I learned that virtue was moral excellence, a commendable quality or trait. The Scout Oath states: “On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.” The Scout Law states: “A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent.” I consider these good words to live by, even if they have fallen out of favor with many.
I served in the U.S. Army for eight years and the Army Reserve for another six before being hired by a large Police Department in California. Things were much different then. Yes, life was hard; not everything was hunky-dory in America, but for the most part, its citizens were happy, industrious, and prosperous. The two major political parties had differences in ideology without the vehement hatred that we see today. You were able to discuss politics and religion with your neighbor without fearing it would come to blows.
Things have changed today. Students are no longer being taught about the greatness of America. They are being told that its earliest leaders, our founding fathers, were evil because they owned slaves. Therefore, all the good they have done is null and void and doesn’t count. Some have now decided America is an evil country because it was “built on slavery.” In some cases, they feel free to riot, loot, harass people on the street, burn businesses, and even kill to advance their cause.
I believe what may have led to this shift is a loss of gratitude. There are others, of course, but I feel that gratitude is the main virtue lacking with others closely following. Dennis Prager warned, “One of humanity’s most common character traits is ingratitude.” Billy Graham gave the same warning when he said, “Gratitude is one of the greatest Christian virtues; ingratitude, one of the most vicious sins.”
Joseph Smith also taught, “One of the greatest sins, both in magnitude and extent … is the sin of ingratitude.” Ingratitude can be described as the state of being thankless. The first chapter of the Quran starts with the word ‘Alhamdulillah’ which translates into ‘all praise is for God.’ Muslims often respond with ‘Alhamdulillah’ when being asked how they are—which is to say, they are grateful for all they have in life. (If they are grateful, Allah will certainly continue to pour out blessings upon them).
In the New Testament, we read about Jesus healing the ten lepers. Jesus took notice of them as they cried out for mercy—and simply commanded them to “go shew yourselves unto the priests.” The record says “as they went, they were cleansed. And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God, and fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan. And Jesus answering said, were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?”
Like the nine lepers, too many fail to recognize how blessed they are—having lived so long in freedom, for instance, that they can’t comprehend a life without it. But I still wonder—why are so many ungrateful for what they have? They live in the freest nation on earth. We have a justice system where you are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They are free to seek the “American Dream,” to become whatever they wish. They can go to public school for free and college for relatively little money. They can vote for the candidate of their choice in free elections for city, state, and national representation. They are free to live where they choose, to own a business, and associate with whom they choose. They are free to own a gun and speak their mind without fear of government reprisal. They are free to peaceably assemble and to redress their government for grievances. Americans enjoy many more rights and privileges guaranteed in our Constitution.
Why can’t they see the beauty of what this all means? For the last several decades, we have heard reports that schools and colleges are leaving these elements of American life out of their curricula. They are often taught a skewed version, a corrupt version, of our history. As our history is “rewritten” by today’s academia, our youth fail to develop respect and gratitude for what our forefathers established in this country. This brings to mind the words of Apostle Paul in his epistle to Timothy, in describing sinners, when he said they are “Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
Imagine what it could mean if America could take to heart these words President Abraham Lincoln wrote in 1863 at the height of the Civil War:
We have been the recipients of the choicest bounties of heaven; we have been preserved these many years in peace and prosperity; we have grown in number, wealth, and power as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God. We have forgotten the gracious hand which preserved us in peace and multiplied and enriched and strengthened us, and we have vainly imagined, in the deceitfulness of our hearts, that all these blessings were produced by some superior wisdom and virtue of our own. Intoxicated with unbroken success we have become too self-sufficient to feel the necessity of redeeming and preserving grace, too proud to pray to the God who made us… It behooves us, then, to humble ourselves before the offended power, to confess our … sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.
These words were true then and they are certainly true today.
I heard someone say once that our youth live in a TV sitcom world. They expect instant gratification without really having to work hard. When things don’t work out for them, they are angry and act out believing they deserve more than other people simply because they want something. Timothy Dexter recognized this in his book The New Dictionary of Thoughts, where he wrote, “an ungrateful man is like a hog under a tree eating acorns, but never looking up to see where they come from.”
So, who is to blame, you may ask? We all are. There have been many warning signs and we have ignored them. It’s too late to assign blame now and it really does no good. The bigger question is, what do we do about it? How do we correct this false notion that America is an evil country? How do we convince our young people to accept the truth that while our forefathers were flawed men, as everyone is, they did mighty things in order to build a nation where freedom-loving men and women the world over still wish to live?
I submit that it starts in our own homes. Parents need to be involved. They need to be hands-on when it comes to teaching their children these realities and the missing values too. This focus at home is especially important in today’s world since politics is influencing everything. It’s very important that parents today know what they believe, what their values are, and then impart those values to their children. For too long many parents have left this up to school teachers, the TV, movies, sports figures, and now YouTube influencers (heaven help us all)!
I believe we must teach our children, and our grandchildren, the greatness of America and the greatness of those men and women who sacrificed so much on our behalf. When people have an understanding of how much others sacrificed to make America the bastion of freedom that it is in the world, they may be more appreciative of the freedom that they continue to take for granted today.
They need to be reminded of Thomas Paine’s words from The American Crisis written in 1776, “What we obtain too cheaply we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated.”
So, it’s crucial that they come to understand how important freedom is in their lives, and that it needs to be saved at all costs. They also need to be taught to be grateful for what they have and what they are capable of attaining if they are willing to work for it.
William Tyler Page wrote The American’s Creed in 1917. In it, he sums up how I feel about this great and blessed land, America. “I believe in the United States of America as a government of the people, by the people, for the people; whose just powers are derived from the consent of the governed, a democracy in a republic, a sovereign Nation of many sovereign States; a perfect union, one and inseparable; established upon those principles of freedom, equality, justice, and humanity for which American patriots sacrificed their lives and fortunes. I therefore believe it is my duty to my country to love it, to support its Constitution, to obey its laws, to respect its flag, and to defend it against all enemies.”
America was built by hard-working men and women who envisioned a land where its citizens could be free to make their own choices in life. These men had a love of freedom and worked hard to obtain it. I am grateful for such men. I am grateful for the more than one million men and women who have served this country in military service —many of whom have gone off to foreign lands and experienced the horrors of war. I am grateful that we have men and women (then and now) who place such a value on freedom that they are willing to die to preserve it. I am also grateful for our police officers—men and women who fight evil in our streets every day. Men and women who are demonized for their efforts and yet return each night in a struggle to keep the peace so the rest of us can feel safe in our homes.
If you feel as I do, then you know how imperative and urgent it is that we teach our youth to love this country and to be grateful for all we have. If not, it’s not an exaggeration to say that all will be lost. Ronald Reagan summed this up when he said, “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”
I pray we will not live to see that day. And I’m raising my voice to do my part in fighting for this goodness and to encourage everyone to do the same.