One of the key themes during this year’s US Presidential debates (besides the economy, duh!) was the demise of values; family values, American values, social values, neighbourly values, etc. And a particular hot topic was the seeming disregard for positive social values in today’s youth. Today young people are less respectful of authority and their elders, and definitely less respectful of teachers, than just a few generations ago. This can easily be seen in the decline of discipline in classrooms and school grounds. Violence, bullying, and chaos in classrooms are a regular part of the school day for an increasing number of students.
Many lay blame on the fact that a growing number of young people now live in broken homes, either due to divorce or fatherless families. Others blame the poor economy as contributing to the lack of jobs and growing disenfranchisement with the social system. The stability and values-based education once instilled through the home and community are being replaced with the values seen on television and in computer games – values of greed, violence, dishonesty and intolerance.
America is indeed a fractured nation and the shared values that once united the polyglot of immigrant cultures into a proud and productive nation are rapidly disappearing. And with the disappearance of shared values goes the cohesion and willingness to work together for solutions for the common good.
I don’t believe the divorce rate is going to go down any time soon. I don’t think television will suddenly shift to positive programming. I don’t think computer games will start delivering overwhelmingly beneficial social and life lessons. And it doesn’t look like economic prosperity is around the corner.
So, what to do about rebuilding our positive social values? Let me tell you a story:
When I lived in the Palos Verdes area of Southern California in the mid 1990s, my next door neighbor had two teenage sons. Neither were very studious but the youngest was a particular problem, to his parents and to the neighborhood. His language was loud and foul, all the time. He was disrespectful to his mother and the neighbours. He did no chores around the house to help his mother, who was recently divorced and working full time. He got into fights at school. To me this kid was headed for a miserable life and probably time in jail.
With no prospects upon graduation from high school, his mother signed him up for the US Marine Corps and off he went to Basic Training. It was quiet and peaceful in the neighborhood for the next 13 weeks or so. And then he was home on leave.
I didn’t recognize the clean cut, respectful and considerate young man who said “Good Morning, Sir” to me as he was mowing the lawn and I was leaving the house for work. His mother later told us she cried when he came home a changed person. He finished his tour of duty, went to Junior College and is now a hard working family man.
Values can be taught. And they can be learned and internalized. America needs its next generations to relearn the values that make people and nations strong, tolerant, productive and respectful of others.
Mr. Fixit’s next initiative is make basic military service compulsory for all Americans aged 18. The details of how long, what types of deferments, etc., can all be worked out. The fact is, the US military already has great team based values training capabilities. No need to develop a new program or agency. And in the majority of cases, it works very well. Young people learn the value of teamwork, discipline, accountability, hard work, friendship and also skills that can be used later in life of how to get along with others. In short order America would be rebuilding a nation of shared values and a nation full of confidence, accountability and pride.
If we are to put the US back on its feet economically and socially, then we must work together harder than we ever have before. When I look back and see how people rallied together as a nation during WWII, that is the type of cohesion and shared work ethic that is required today. And such cohesion can only come about through a set of shared values that we all strongly believe in.
Note: And if the UK wants to avoid the current unharmonious situation of the US, then compulsory military service might be something to consider as well.
Tight Lines . . .
John R Childress