Let Us Remember and Learn

May 30, 2022

Memorial Day. This year, as always, I honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Today I’d also like to pay tribute to an America I remember well, but I fear coming generations may never have an opportunity to know.

That America understood civility. Civil discourse was actually civil. Most people understood that disagreement on issues is inevitable, and debating issues is part of the democratic process. Name-calling and rudeness are not. Somehow, we have turned from discussing issues to attacking people who think, look, act, or believe differently than we do. What happened?

The America I remember understood the importance of respect for others, despite differences. Parents ingrained that respect into their children and, most of the time, modeled it. What happened?

In America, kindness and tolerance were once considered to be virtues. I remember being admonished to think before speaking. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? Recently I’ve heard people say they think kindness and tolerance are signs of weakness. What happened?

Americans once taught their children that compromise is a life skill that can help smooth rocky roads. Life is about give and take, not just taking. What happened?

America taught me that responsibility trumps entitlement. If you break it, fix it. If you make a mess, clean it up. If you hurt someone, make amends. If you make a mistake, own it—don’t blame others. Leave this place in better shape than you found it. We owe that to the generations that follow us. This all makes perfect sense to me. What happened?

Yesteryear was far from perfect. I don’t idealize it. I know there are countless examples of individuals and groups who have made a mockery of everything I’ve just said. But I believe those people and groups were the exception, not the rule. I believe that at one time most Americans really cared about civility, decency, honesty, respect and, yes, even tolerance and responsibility. I keep asking myself what happened. I don’t have any good answers and, frankly, I’m losing hope for the future of my country.

Remembrance is a decent and proper thing. But what good does it do if we can’t learn and move forward? It saddens me to think that those brave men and women may have died for naught.

(Photo by Justin Casey on Unsplash)

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