What does Grandpa Joe from Willy Wonka, Gramma Tala from Disney’s Moana, and chief elder Ten Bears from Dances with Wolves all have in common? Age and wisdom to offer, and a respectful community grounded enough to listen.
Indeed, depictions of wise elders transcend cultures and time. Perhaps because they are rooted in an objective truth that those who have lived longer, and done so while more rooted in their traditional culture than the generations that followed, have a wellspring of wisdom and empathy to offer the rest of us. If embraced, these traditions nurture a more fulfilling life, providing people with a moral and social fabric that binds them together and gives life more meaning.
This is true in societies around the world and throughout time, and so it is with America. Amidst our diversity, a set of ideals bind us together (most of which are encoded in our Bill of Rights); freedom of thought and faith; freedom to assemble and pursue happiness; security of person, property, and the yields of our own ingenuity.
Rooted in the hardy independence of our forbears, our traditions have forged characteristics that have propelled the United States to ever greater freedom, wealth and stability for hundreds of years:
Community: America has been known for having a plethora of citizen organizations that bind people together. Once such example is the Lions Club International. In one of the greatest works of 19th century political writings, “Democracy in America” by Alexis de Tocqueville notes that America had far more of these community organizations than in Europe due to century’s old tradition of people supporting and governing themselves in absence of a strong central government. Now this tradition is mostly gone as described in Robert D. Putnam’s book “Bowling Alone”. The consequences? Lack of community has lead to the radicalization and violence in American society, which in turn has encouraged a rapidly expanding bureaucracy in Washington . Rebuilding community organizations is essential if we are to maintain strong communities and keep the increasing threat of larger governmental control at bay.
Education: Americans had one of the highest literacy rates in the world in the 19th century with absolutely no public schooling. There was a can-do, self-education and private education tradition. Today, after a century of centralized schooling, the U.S. ranks slightly above the international average, including all developing nations. The homeschooling movement, however, shows some promise of reversing this trend.
Family: It is evident that much of the crime and delinquency in America is caused by broken families (i.e., sons raised by single mothers, and so on), a trend that is consistent across all racial and socio-economic groups. Family formation, which was once very high in America, has been in drastic decline the last few decades. It is important that we rekindle and maintain a strong family nucleus to ensure that children gain the upbringing and wisdom needed to be able to guide the next generation well.
Preservation of the Environment: The benefits of national parks are indeed numerous and America was the first country to have national parks. Interestingly, it came about with individual citizens buying land and laying the foundation for these parks, as opposed to a big government push. Considering this, why have a top-down government push against climate change when the preservation of land and natural beauty for future generations can be done in a grassroots way?