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"Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."
I don't know about you, but I'm troubled by a lot of what I see and hear in America's heartland. Every morning, it seems, I open the newspaper and read about some new scandal or outrage that sets me reeling. Government officials on the take. Public school teachers on the prowl. Professional athletes on the juice. Organized religion on the decline. Traditional nuclear families on the wane. And on and on. Even more troubling, it seems as though we can no longer trust what we read in the newspaper, or take in on the network or cable news programs, because the deceit and corruption have lately reached to the very institutions charged with watchdogging the public interest.
Of course, it doesn't stop at our institutions. It reaches into the very heart of our communities-the folks next door who sometimes appear wired in ways that have nothing to do with the fundamental values with which most of us were raised. Indeed, as I put the finishing touches to these pages, I'm struggling to makesense out of the latest piece of bad behavior to surface in America's backyard. And it's not just America's backyard; it's mine; it took place in a small town less than an hour from the small town where I grew up. Perhaps by the time you read this it will have blown over, but I have a feeling this one will linger in our national conscience for a good long while.
Here's what happened: A Tee-ball coach in Uniontown, Pennsylvania, was charged with offering one of his eight-year-old players $25 to hit a teammate in the face with a baseball in hopes that the targeted player-a mildly retarded autistic child-would be hurt badly enough to have to leave the game. See, in Uniontown as elsewhere, all Tee-ballers who show up for their team's games must play at least three innings, and the boy's coach thought this put his team at some kind of disadvantage. At first he thought it might be a good idea not to tell the player the time and place of the team's first playoff game, but when that didn't work he allegedly hit upon this plan to put the kid out of commission.
And the story gets worse. The coach's "assassin" missed his target on the first throw and merely hit the kid in the groin, but the boy's unsuspecting mother encouraged her son to shake it off and go right back onto the field, at which point a second ball hit him on the side of his face and ear, drawing blood and sending him to the sidelines. When I came across this headline, in June 2005, it struck me as just about the most unconscionable human act I could imagine-pure evil!-and yet upon reflection I feared it was emblematic of the win-at-all-costs, anything-goes mind-set that seems to have taken hold across this great land.
My goodness, our checks and balances are out of whack in this country, and our priorities so far out of line, that I sometimes have difficulty recognizing the world I'm living in. (Do you?) I set these thoughts to paper and catch myself wondering when halfhearted apologies started amounting to consequences; when law-abiding, God-fearing people began convincing themselves that shortcuts were the path to decency; and, when folks we'd always cast as role models started living down to their roles. Did I miss a memo? Was there a mass conference call, during which everyone agreed to toss aside traits like accountability and responsibility in favor of the attitude that justifies almost any action? Lord knows, I must have overlooked something, and at times I wonder where to look for the virtue I'm certain resides deep within us all. Like most people I know, I grew up believing that our principles were like currency, and that doing the right thing was the default option programmed into our hard drives, but these days those principles have so little to do with the heat and haste of our American way of life that you'd be hard-pressed to spot them at all in the stories behind each day's scandalous headlines.
When did this happen? And, more to the point, what can we do about it? Well, I have some ideas, and they're basic, and I mean to spend some time on them here. They reach back to this country's roots, on the theory that you've got to approach each problem at its foundation. Consider: America is a special place because of our Founders' vision. They believed that a nation could be built on the back of self-governance, that making laws didn't necessarily give us the solutions that free markets and conscience-driven individuals would also provide. They believed in the limits of government as much as they did in the power of government. And they believed that a free market economy and a limited government would be supported by our shared Judeo-Christian ethics to provide a fundamental sense of duty and conscience to all American citizens. Indeed, our moral foundation continues to flow from the shared values that have been passed down for generations, and these values are simple, straightforward, and widely held: honesty, integrity, personal responsibility, faith, humility, accountability, compassion, forgiveness. They're a part of us, whether or not we want to cop to them. What's wrong with America is that on a societal level we have swung away from these fundamental values in a kind of mass crisis of conscience-it's like a virus!-but it is up to each of us to change the tone and tenor of the country, to set right the moral pendulum in our own lives, and to swing that pendulum back in a more positive, more hopeful direction.
It is like a virus, and I'm afraid it's spreading. A mechanic is treated rudely and unprofessionally by a telephone agent representing one of his local utilities. Unable to receive satisfaction or even simple courtesy in the exchange, he gets off the phone in a surly mood, and finds that he is short-tempered with the next customer to appear in his garage. There's a cloud darkening his normally sunny disposition, and this next customer is unfortunately on the receiving end of it-and, also unfortunately, that next customer happens to be an emergency room physician's assistant at the local hospital, and the ill temper rubs off on him as well. And so it goes, spreading through our neighborhoods like a contagion.
Right now, the cultural indicators are stacked against us. Just look at the number of broken families-in your own neighborhood and across our country. Look at the sex and violence on television, and in our popular music, and in the video games that have become so much a part of our children's lives. Look at the number of corporate leaders under investigation, indictment, or conviction. Look at the suspect recruiting practices of college coaches, or the unbridled arrogance of professional athletes-on the field, in the locker room, and in their home communities. Look at the disturbing trend of politicians who genuinely hate each other because they wear different uniforms or hold opposing views. Look at the alarming rate of child abductions and domestic violence. Look at a system of public education that simply isn't working. Look at our disaffected student population, desperate for guidance and attention. Look at all these things and know that they exist because of a lack of leadership. That's what it comes down to, leadership, and once again it's basic. For the most part, our leaders have not been standing up for America or sounding any kind of alarm. Heck, most of them haven't been standing up at all, and this right here is the problem. For too long now, the folks who move and shake this country have been content to play the hands they've been dealt, instead of shuffling the cards and pulling for a better draw. The time has come and long gone for our leaders to rise and matter, to take a stand ... for something.
IT'S ON US
Realize, it's not only our most visible leaders, our elected officials, who are failing us. The failure runs across the board. Yes, we tend to lead from the top down, but we live and grow from the bottom up, so it's not just on our senators and congressmen. It's not just on our governors. It's not just on our president, or his administration. It's not just on our favorite movie stars and rock singers and flavor-of-the-month fashion designers. It's also on us. It's on our mechanics and mailmen and teachers and middle managers. It's on our friends and neighbors.
It's on me.
It's on you.
This right here is what it comes down to. This right here is the bottom line of our societal decline. We can point fingers and lay blame and rail against our fading moral values and our rising tolerance for celebrity indiscretions, but we've got to look in the mirror and figure our own role in the mess. We've got to take some responsibility, to be honest with ourselves and consider whether we've done a single blessed thing to stand against the tides of indifference and insensitivity that have lately washed over American shores.
We are, all of us, greater than the sum of our parts. Or, at least, we all have the potential to be greater than the sum of our parts. In my case those parts can be traced directly to my mother and father. And that's where my potential lies as well. Truth be told, that's how it is for many of us. We draw a line from the men and women we've become to the men and women our parents tried to be, to the hopes they held out for us that first moment they cradled us in their arms. There's no denying that line. It's written all over us. Absolutely, we can trace everything about our present lives to the lives that shaped us, to the people who loved us and raised us, to the communities that held us close and kept us near. Without question, the most important gifts that my mother and father gave to me throughout my growing up were the values that came with their love and attention-the richest inheritance any parent can bequeath to a child, wouldn't you agree? Most of us have been the intended beneficiaries of similar gifts. (What we've each chosen to do with those gifts is a whole other muddle.) In one way or another, they're the same values parents have been trying to hand down to their children for generations, and the same values to which I alluded earlier. Honesty. Integrity. Personal responsibility. Faith. Humility. Accountability.
Being a good friend and neighbor.
Believing in ourselves.
Believing in something bigger than ourselves.
Leaving the world a better place for our being here.
Trusting in our fellow man.
I don't mean to repeat myself or to beat a dead horse but I believe in all of these values, and a few more besides. I own them. And I've come to realize that they're all I've got. They're what I'm made of and who I am. And the thing of it is, I know in my bones that there are millions of Americans just like me. We've all got our own core values, our own hard-won belief systems, our own ties to family and community, our own sense of right and wrong. And yet despite all of this common, value-laden ground, we live in a time of profound societal drift. We send ourselves careening into our busy lives and lose sight of our foundation. These values are like a great, welling natural resource-regrettably, one that has gone largely untapped in recent years, by too many of us. All around the country, and in our subset communities, we seem to have inched away from these core values, and the cynics among us will tell us we'll inch further still.
WHY LEGACY MATTERS
Look around and you'll see what I mean, and while you're at it take a good long look in the mirror. Let's face it, too many of us embrace these core values in theory alone, because when the gun goes off and the race begins we've seen how easy it is to shed these values to lighten our moral load. In the mad scramble to get and keep ahead we invariably forget what it truly means to succeed, to matter, to make a difference. We play every day like we're in the Super Bowl, like every decision, every action, every twist and turn will be all. But none of that matters. Well, strike that. It all matters, but it matters in a cumulative way, not in a big-play way, if you get the distinction. It matters in what we leave behind, in the legacy we manage to build on the backs of those decisions and actions and twists and turns. What matters is what my daughters are going to say about me after I'm gone, what they're going to tell their grandchildren-not how much money I made or how many elections I won or how many deals I helped to close. All these things matter, too, don't get me wrong, but at the end of the race they don't seem to matter most of all, and it's the most of all that I'm after here. It's the most of all that defines us.
I fall into the same traps as most everybody else. I'm not here to suggest that I have all the answers-only to ask the right questions, and to keep asking the right questions until we begin to push each other to some kind of shared awareness. I'm so far from perfect I sometimes need a map to find it, but I'm on it. I'm trying. I'm doing everything I can, as opposed to as little as I can get away with, and this is all the difference. The effort. The doing. The taking care. Too often, I find, folks resign themselves to whatever they think fate has in store for them. They make mistakes, as we all do, but they really drop the ball when they choose to live with those mistakes, or to compound them with other missteps. I worry that our young people are looking over their shoulders at the world around and figuring there's no profit in rocking the boat or shaking things up or taking any kind of stand-and it's this very complacency that threatens our shared moral fiber.
Here's just one example: I work with students in a leadership program at Ohio State, and they often wonder what the point is in making any kind of extra effort or going any kind of extra mile. They get to thinking the odds are stacked so long against them that there's no point in reaching out to make any kind of difference, and this was brought home to me one day in class when one of the students suggested that all Martin Luther King, Jr., ever got for his troubles was a bullet. Another student chimed in with a story about her aunt, who railed against unfair business practices at her place of work and in return received a pink slip. Others checked in with their own tales of frustration and woe, and somewhere in the middle of the debate the mood of the room seemed to be that there was no profit in fighting our big institutions. Now, I hear this type of thinking enough times and I begin to realize how powerless our young people feel. They're stymied, with no real idea how to move up and out and forward. Clearly, there's a hopelessness out there that I'm afraid is insidious and I'm worried that if we don't stand against it, and soon, we'll be headed for even more desperate times.
And so I try to impress on these students-our future, the seed corn of our society-that nothing good was ever accomplished with complacency. I remind them that change doesn't just happen. I listen about their aunt who might have lost her job and help them to recast that proud woman as a role model, a real champion for change. I tell them about Martin Luther King and what he was able to build from his strength and vision. I help them find the points of connection, from how this great man was raised to how he lived, and to recognize that it's the same line that reaches all the way back to the Bible. That's what was so brilliant about Martin Luther King. He captured the notion that if we stand on principle-God's principle, that all men are created equal and that we will not respond with violence against those who are violent-then the righteousness of our cause will ultimately prevail.
I don't wish to be the voice of doom here, and I certainly don't mean to suggest that Western civilization is lost and hopeless. Not at all. There's an awful lot that's right and good about the way we live and work. It's like there's a hole in the dam, and if we don't tend to it the dam is going to burst. Think once again of our young people and you'll get what I mean. Think of the images and impulses that have been raining down on them for as long as they can remember. Think of the world we've made for them and the one they're about to sustain. Somehow, they've gotten the message that it's okay for professional athletes to climb into the stands and pummel unruly fans, for gangster rappers to denigrate women and celebrate violence in the name of sales, and for the bottom line to measure the sum total of how we live. It's no wonder they're jaded, and confused. You would be, too, if all you knew was that Paris Hilton is rich and famous for no good reason but the confluence of birth and reality television, and that baseball player Rafael Furcal is allowed to drive under the influence without immediate punishment because his team is in a pennant race and a judge allows himself to be persuaded in the court of public opinion to let his sentencing slide until the end of the season, and that politicians can purposefully mislead their constituents on the staggering public debt that threatens our nation's financial security and still be reelected.
Excerpted from Stand for Something by John Kasich Copyright © 2006 by John Kasich . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted May 4, 2006
I picked up this book because of the different types of people who commented on it on the back - People from Bono to Yogi Berra to Elie Weisel. The book is a quick read, but it brings up some very interesting points. Kasich was a conservative Congressman, but he really points out the polarization in out country right now. I think there are parts of the book that really force you to look at yourself.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 7, 2006
I COULD NOT PUT DOWN JOHN KASICHS BOOK 'STAND FOR SOMETHING' IAM SO THANKFUL THAT HE WROTE THIS BOOK IT IS HIGH TIME THAT SOMEONE DID.THIS BOOK ADDRESS`S THE IMPORTANT THINGS THAT WE SHOULD STRIVE FOR IN OUR COUNTRY, IN OUR BUSINESS, AND IN OUR EVERY DAY LIFE AND IN OUR EVERY DAY GOALS TO MAKE A GREAT EXAMPLE OF COURAGE THAT IN SOCIETY. PLEASE GIVE A GIFT TO YOUR FRIEND, A FAMILY MEMBER, OR A SOLDIER SERVING OVER SEAS. GREAT BOOK : 'STAND FOR SOMETHING' BY JOHN KASICHWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.