Once upon a time “family values” meant teaching by example: that is, living in a family meant living under one roof where – in the best case scenario – the adults in charge taught children how to be helpful and honest, and how to respect their elders and care for others.
Clearly, times have changed. Even the very picture of what constitutes a family in the 21st century is different. More often than not today, though a family may still live under one roof, we have many more single parent families, other families with same sex parents, bi-racial or inter-faith parents, or blended families where each of the parents has been married previously and their children then inherit a variety of step-siblings. Yet, while the members of any given family may no longer fit our previously held stereotypical norms, a family is still a group of people where the adults in charge are responsible for role modeling values which teach children how to be in the world: how to be honest and helpful and where offering unconditional love remains paramount to the healthy development of any child.
In many ways, modern day society is making the necessary adjustments to modern day needs. Some argue that these changes have been for the better, since they represent a society in the process of maturing and becoming more inclusive, accepting and not shunning those who may not be like themselves.
Personally, it doesn’t matter to me whether or not one accepts the changes, but it does matter greatly when anyone is hypocritical, talking the talk but not walking the walk! Those, for instance, who preach from religious or political pulpits about “family values” and then go on to act with total disregard for loyalty to their very own families and/or constituents are the men and women who exemplify modern day hypocrisy.
I can’t presume to speak for others, but I certainly do not feel the need for any of us to act saintly. I do, however, think that what has become unacceptable is the media’s coverage of those men and women who have “fallen from grace.” Celebrities who may once have been worthy of being held in high esteem are being turned into celebrities of immorality who are all too visible and accessible.
For those whose views are far to the right, people acting in ways that don’t conform to their definition of “normal” are considered immoral, perverted, unredeemable transgressors, and often un-American.
At the other extreme, we see the same rigidity when those who don’t conform to the so-called liberal outlook are branded as fascists, despots, and, yes, even un-American.
Given these extremes, I can’t help but wonder how it will be possible for us to find a middle ground, a place of sanity. A place where we don’t proclaim to be saints pointing fingers at sinners, and where what we choose to find acceptable may not reflect our personal life style but certainly isn’t harming anyone else’s. In the end, I suppose I do believe that what we need to change is the fabric of what we too glibly refer to as “family values.”
When I was growing up in the 1940s and 50s – a child of immigrants who were proud to become citizens of our United States – family members were taught to trust and protect one another. I’m not saying that siblings didn’t fight or that every marriage was a loving and affectionate one. But I am saying that at least we all professed to know what family members should, at least, attempt to do for one another in times of crisis as well as in times of joy.
We certainly did not expect our political leaders to openly admit – whether of their own accord or because they were forced to do so – to having a mistress or a second family or to be spending government money to support personal and/or perverse habits. . At the very least, we did not expect that once having admitted to any betrayal they would then expect to be excused and forgiven without impunity.
Whether we were naïve or simply shut our eyes to wrong-doings is not the issue. No doubt much that we consider to be immoral has always been a part of human nature. Transgressions of unethical and anti-social behaviors have existed since the beginning of time. Though they are no longer afforded the luxury of occurring behind closed doors, which helps the victims of abuse, instant media blitzing and an all-too-constant televised rehashing of personal and public improprieties is not merely an invasion of the privacy of all parties, it encourages children and adults to be jaded, immune to wrong-doings, and the end result is that there are fewer and fewer people to emulate.
The truth is that we are inundated, surrounded and buried under a trash heap of all that’s wrong with society. We see major sports figures admitting to drug abuse or wife-battering. In the world of politics, officials whom we have elected into office to protect our rights and fight for the betterment of our lives prove to be the very people who either squander our money or display anything but family values in their private lives, proving themselves to be not merely hypocritical but self-serving men and women with no values that we would ever wish them to teach our family members. Why does the media, in particular, place so little focus on all that is good, on all who perform acts of extraordinary kindness and courage, saving lives and uplifting the human spirit? Why do we so seldom read about such people and why isn’t enough tribute being paid to all that is good in society?
So, where do we look for guidance and encouragement? Where and how do we break this cycle that is destroying the rich value of family traditions, tarnishing our heroes and diminishing what was – once upon a time – the backbone of a civilized family. A family which, in turn, gave us hope that a civilized family of nations was a possible achievement?
Having posed the question, I welcome any of your thoughtful solutions.