Whiting column: Our future need not be predicated by the past
It’s become more than unacceptable.
Each day seems to provide another occurrence of man’s inhumanity to man that causes us to shake our head in disbelief.
It doesn’t have to be violent. It can be the way we act toward and treat one another. It’s universal; not confined to any country, state or city. There aren’t specific characteristics defining perpetrators or victims. Employed, unemployed; old, young; organized, impulsive; poor, rich; minimum wage employee, high level politician. So commonplace, we’re no longer surprised.
We logically look to assign blame, but we tend to not look in the mirror. It’s human nature to look elsewhere; deflect the culpability.
Our first response is a propensity to “make a law.” This is seldom effective, because it doesn’t deal with what motivated the individual(s) to act inappropriately or cause harm. Laws haven’t prevented murder. Laws haven’t won the war on drugs.
Real change comes from the inside; internally, not externally. We don’t need more regulations; we need to possess more principles. Objects don’t usually cause the problem. Blaming the gun is like blaming the toothbrush if we get a cavity. It’s up to us.
We don’t need more laws, we need more character. Principles and character are individually possessed or lacking. But their possession is the only route by which enduring improvement can occur.
Over time our values have changed; but not for the better. Values changed not because of law, but because we allowed them to disintegrate. Why isn’t a handshake enough to seal a deal anymore. It’s not because everyone possesses character. We shouldn’t need a 15- to 20-page contract for a simple transaction, unless we’re trying to hide something. The Affordable Care Act was 2,700 pages. Our last real estate contract was 17 pages. Many employment contracts are over 15 pages. My college writing professors would have sent them back for a rewrite.
My father annually sold 600-700 head of cattle to the packing plant over the phone. He bought 300-400 calves each year from neighboring ranches with a handshake. That was normal procedure. Once dad refused an offer to sell 40 breeding heifers even though the price was attractive. I later asked why. “He reneged on a deal to buy calves from Glen Fales (a neighbor). There’s no need to deal with people you can’t trust.” The word got around and the buyer was “dead meat” in our valley. There were consequences.
Another time, after selling four horses to a ranch 10 miles up the river, my job was to take the horse trailer and deliver them the next week. After unloading them in the corral, the rancher’s wife gave me the check which I handed to dad upon my return. I was immediately told, “Go back and get another check. Our deal was for $600 per horse, not $700.” In my youthful density, I replied “Why don’t we cash the check. It was their mistake?” Dad didn’t say a word. His expression conveyed the response. I ran to the pickup to head back.
Shouldn’t our word be all that is required? In some environments, it still is. In the 17 years since my father’s passing, I have yet to sign a contract to buy fertilizer, crop insurance or sell the corn the Nebraska farms produce. No contract is required. If they reneged on any deal they would be out of business. If I reneged, so would I. Sadly, in most other settings, such is not commonplace.
For societal change this significant to occur, it must be generational in nature. The younger generations will have to make it standard. That doesn’t let us off the hook, but rather magnifies our responsibility. It will be up to us to not only discuss it with our children, but model it. They don’t learn ethics in a textbook, but rather by observation and experience.
We can’t count on others to be their role models. Politicians make backroom deals and speak disrespectfully of their colleagues. Too many sports figures commit domestic violence, break contracts threatening to take their ball and go home. Many corporate executives structure income toward themselves rather than their employees and justify taking advantage of vendors or clients by saying it’s “just business.” Sadly, too many in religious positions succumb to temptation. Consequently, it’s up to us as parents and adults.
We can affect others best by modeling what we would like to see happen; what we would like others to do. It’s difficult, because it requires doing so all day, every day. But that’s the only way to begin the process of making it normal again.
We are all affected by things outside of our control, but we still control what we do. Deep down we know the difference between right and wrong. Some argue they are but one person and can’t have any affect. However, all significant change started with one person and grew. It only takes one person to change the direction of the biggest airplane.
Lately, it has become popular to talk about privilege. White privilege, Black privilege, immigrant privilege, political privilege. They may all be present, but the one with the greatest effect is parental privilege. It is our personal responsibility to provide it.
Bryan Whiting feels most of our issues are best solved by personal responsibility and an understanding of non-partisan economics rather than government intervention. Comments and column suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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