“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman,” a quote from Thomas Paine, a pamphleteer and gadfly in the ointment of Revolutionary politics.
Paine, whose life span was 1737 to 1809, also said, “What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”
It often takes time and distance before we are capable of recognizing the wisdom (or not) of those who are bent on upsetting the status quo in favor of the difficult path that is freedom.
Those of us who grew up in post-World War II and subsequent battles to overcome an effort to conquer the world in the name of Communism are tired of conflict. We know the Marxist attempt that in theory promises “fair” distribution of goods and power, is in practice, a greedy, iron rule of the few over the many.
The Paines of today are a pain, especially when calling leaders to account. We prefer a steady ship of State rather than a rocking boat of commentary that requires constant attention.
How such commentators are viewed — as prophets of doom or of promise — lives within the intents of their listeners. Time will reveal the truth, but one thing is clear throughout the rise and fall of nations and kingdoms — it is not so much the system that governs as it is the people who govern the system that brings success or downfall. Continued freedom requires vigilence, not unthinking adherence.
A question to ponder: do we become what we do, or is what we do an outcome of who we are?
Teacher, tailor, farmer, soldier; preacher, senator, banker, entertainer. Younger, older, fatter, slimmer; mother, father, sister, brother; baptist, catholic, muslim, other.
What we are and how we think are far more compelling in how we behave than any collection of information reveals because it is the individual that makes up the whole, not the whole that determines the individual. Therein lies a part of our problem. We are no longer sure how to evaluate or live peacefully as an individual within the whole.
Sally Fields, embracing her age in a recent morning TV interview, says, “I wouldn’t want to be any other; yes, I’m old or old(er),” as she begins a grueling role on Broadway of a dysfunctional family dealing with mental illness and embracing lobatomy as the “cure of the day in “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennesee Williams.
A world of mixed messages confuses and immobilizes us. A clash of cultures assaults us on every side. Some label our issues as “race war,” but it is not that simple. It is a cultural and spiritual war that tears at the fabric of our “One Nation under God.”
At the most basic level we are hampered in what we view as “good” or “evil,” responses learned from the cradle and lived out according to our family of origin, religion and community — in a word, culture.
We are tempted to take the tragic lobotamy “cure” and become less than human by giving in to fear and acceptance of criminal violence in our streets under the guise of peaceful protest.
Speakers and writers who search for the perfect phrase to describe our modern angst can turn to the Bible’s wisdom collection attributed to King Solomon in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
Proverbs begins with this purpose statement, “to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise” as they seek success, and to “help them do what is right, just, and fair.” (NLT)
Ecclesiastes describes the discoveries of one called Teacher, who searches for truth via experience only to find, “Everything is meaningless.” This is certainly descriptive of today. The Teacher continues, “What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? … Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied … nothing is ever truly new.”
But after sampling all the world offers, he admits his failure to solve the puzzle of existence and concludes: “Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty,” recognizing that God, not man, makes the final judgments on good and evil.
Remember the instruction your mother gave you about crossing streets: Stop, look both ways, look again, listen, or “look before you leap” – that cliff hanger question about jumping off a cliff just because everyone else is jumping (If your mother didn’t say this, one of your elementary teachers surely did.).
Stop, look, listen and think is a hard thing at any age, especially before we gather enough experience to evaluate the myriad voices and determine the purposes of those who would “deliver” us.
We are often much easier to mislead than to lead because we, like Solomon’s Teacher, want to live the easy, prosperous life. When we hand that ease of life philosophy to our children without teaching them responsibilty for their actions, we will find them ill-equipped for the challenges and decisions they must make as young adults.
BETH PRATT retired as religion editor from the Avalanche-Journal after 25 years. You can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.