In Search of Morality

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What kind of person do we most admire, someone who possesses sterling character traits or an individual who gets things done no matter what? It’s an important questions with repercussions as to how we decide to raise our children, what kinds of bosses we want to have, and the direction that we wish to traverse in our personal and public lives. At first glance our instincts tell us that it’s a no brainer to assume that we all most likely prefer persons who possess the kinds of qualities that we associate with good values, but if we think just a bit it occurs to us that sometimes those kinds of folks are often overcome by thuggish and rude bullies who demand their way or the highway. If we have a particular goal in mind we may find ourselves leaning toward the pushy sort rather than someone who is kind and soft spoken. We actually bend our own rules in favor of action.

I once worked for an organization lead by a charismatic individual whose style was boastful and audacious. He had a very bad habit of verbally deriding his supervisors and workers on a regular basis. Ironically he demanded a host of positive character traits from his employees including loyalty and compassion when he rarely demonstrated the same qualities in his dealings. The turnover among those who worked for him was enormous because he was known for delivering regular verbal tongue lashings. Surprisingly his business thrived even as his reputation as a tyrant became legendary. The irony was that he pushed his way to success on the backs of very kind people that he had chosen to fill the jobs that he had. While I despised his tactics, I had a certain level of admiration for his accomplishments. I began to understand that we sometimes need different skill sets in the various situation that we encounter, but it worried me that we accepted his brutality.

That being said, I have also worked for exceptional persons who were able to combine a tough will with an accommodating personality. These men and women were known for being competent leaders who always succeeded while also being pillars of all of the positive character traits that society treasures. They led by example and viewed themselves as motivators and coaches training the next generation of executives. They were kind, trustworthy and understanding. Going to work for them each day was a pleasurable experience. Most of us toiled just a bit harder than we might have out of respect for them. They often exceeded goals and expectations without ever demeaning even those who had made mistakes. They behaved like the patriarchs and matriarchs of a big happy family.

In poll after poll whether it be with ordinary citizens or historians the most admired President of the United States for all time is invariably George Washington with Abraham Lincoln coming in a close second. What these two illustrious men shared was an unimpeachable character. They were strong and courageous, but also steadfast in being the best sort of people. Of course neither man was perfect, nobody among us ever is, but they followed a code of conduct that was based on respect and honor. Both men did their best to form decisions based on the good of the country rather than what may have personally made them more powerful. George Washington in particular decried the very thought of being referred to with the salutations associated with royalty. He wanted the presidency to be a position by and for the people, not some exalted throne of power. He even insisted on limiting his time in office lest a precedent of unending authority be set. He was essentially a good and wise man who understood that our president was in essence a servant of the people.

Throughout history we have seen bullies devoid of motivations other than personal aggrandizement rule to the detriment of the common good. While they may have initially appeared to be saviors, the true natures of their goals inevitably became the ruination of the places that they governed. The glee with which they had once been viewed became desperation as a kind of rot overtook their every command. In truth while it takes a certain level of unfettered strength and audacity to be a leader there must also be a foundation of goodness to guide the decisions. Flawed character ultimately leads to selfish acts that destroy everyone in their paths.

As parents, educators, teachers, adults it is up to us to demonstrate the importance of morality to our young. We must always realize that when we preach one set of ideals but live by another our children notice and become confused. They may appear to be distracted by play and the trappings of childhood, but in reality they are always watching and learning from us. If we truly value certain character traits and want to instill them in our young then we must do our best to regularly follow them. Turning a blind eye to bad behaviors simply because doing so gives us something that we desire leads both us and our youth down a slippery slope from which we may one day find ourselves struggling to escape.

There are indeed truly good people who combine the very best of the qualities that we humans most admire. They know when and how to be tough, but also demonstrate compassion and flexibility. They are the true leaders, the ones whom we cherish and attempt to emulate. It’s time that we begin searching for such people in our midst and cast aside the crooks and bullies and rude and unethical people who seem to be so in vogue these days. The future of who our children is ultimately riding on our decisions. 

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Quiet Dignity

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I suppose that many of us long for an ideal society in which we all get along and work together side by side for the common good. We’ve had very few moments in history that worked out so well. There have been some events that have drawn us together, but for the most part there is no place on earth where people are continually in general agreement with one another. It’s a sad fact that those who attempt to be kind and understanding are often misunderstood and thought to be weak and wimpy. So it was with George H.W. Bush, a man so recently revered for his sterling character who was in many ways reviled as someone who did not have the backbone to be a leader when he was in office. The same was true of Jimmy Carter. Sadly both men were one term presidents because the voters saw them as ineffective when the truth was, and still is, that it sometimes takes far more courage to stand for honor and conviction than to wield power like a bully.

I was struck by the Bush family’s ability to bring disparate sides together in the hour of their sorrow. It was apparent that every great leader was ultimately in awe of George H.W. Bush’s character, charm and humility. He understood the need for our leaders to support one another and to put petty grievances aside for the good of the country. He was a man who always did what he believed to be best for all of us rather than for himself. That is a somewhat rare trait in today’s super charged political atmosphere where political grudges run deep.

I loved that the Bush family was so willing to take former President Clinton into their fold, treating him like a member of the family. It made me smile to see George W. teasing Michelle Obama even in his hour of deep sorrow. I was deeply moved that former President Carter and his wife came to honor a man who had once been his competitor. Even President Trump managed to maintain his dignity for the occasion, and the Obamas set aside their differences to show him respect. This was as it should be, not just at the end of someone’s life, but in all instances.

We seem to have lost our way, but occasions like the funeral of a great man reminds us of who we are as people and how we should behave. It was the hope of our founding fathers that we would find ways to compromise and get along for the sake of the nation. We have struggled with that concept again and again, even going so far as to split into a civil war. If not for the determination of another good man, Abraham Lincoln, we might not be such a prosperous country today. We might never have become a haven for people searching for better lives like my grandparents.

While I saw a glimmer of hope in the unity on display at the Bush funeral, I also witnessed the cracks that still need to be filled. I was disappointed that Hillary Clinton was unable to find it in her heart to be somewhat civil to President Trump. It would have been a triumphant move for her to demonstrate that she was the better person, but instead she refused to even acknowledge him. I was also disturbed by commentaries that took place almost before Bush was even buried that continued the rabid fighting between our two political parties. I realized that there is still so much rancor in our country that it will take some rare individual or event to pull us back together. Perhaps somewhere in our midst is a George Washington, Abraham Lincoln or Franklin Roosevelt type figure who will one day bring us the kind of leadership that we so desperately need. I shudder to think that it will require a tragedy or a war to bring us back together.

I believe that most of us desire a quiet, kind and gentle way of doing business. We have instead allowed fringes on the left and right to call the shots. They are the loudest because the rest of us don’t operate their way. They are encouraged by pundits and journalists hoping to make names for themselves rather than finding the courage to be fair and honest. We have been emotionally manipulated for some time now, and I suspect that most of the people of this nation have grown weary of the tactics, but don’t know how to make them stop.

It is sad that we sometimes have to be faced with tragedy before we are able to see truths that are right before our eyes. We are not better off with extremes. It was never the intent of those who created this country to accept incivility and unwillingness to compromise as the way of doing things. We have to take a deep breath and think about how we really want to be.

It was said that George H.W. Bush was a great manager, but not quite as good as a politician. In truth this is exactly what a president is supposed to be, the person who helps to run the many systems of the country. We have far too many executive orders and ways around the intended processes these days. Our Congress should be making the laws, not a single individual. We desperately need to be reminded that the running of our country should not be the domain of a one person, no matter how charismatic or strong willed he or she may be. The president should be striving to be reasonable with all sides of an argument, not just the ideas of a political party. Always decisions should be made with a wide scope of opinions in mind.

I can only pray that we will one day remember who we are as a nation, admit to our mistakes, and move toward a more all embracing way of doing things. The fighting and snubbing and name calling will ultimately do us no good. Dignity must become our goal again. George H.W. Bush and his family have shown us the way. Perhaps it is time to follow.

A Kinder Gentler Man

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Barbara Bush often mentioned that she had been enthralled by George Bush from the moment that they met as teenagers. He was handsome, athletic, bright, and most of all kind. George was a gentle soul with an inner courage that demonstrated itself during World War II when he enlisted at the age of eighteen in the Navy and became the youngest pilot. The love between him and Barbara only grew during the years when he was gone. He named his plane after her and sent her letters that unabashedly expressed his feelings for her. They married in 1945 and became partners in a life that would bring them both tragedies and great joy.

Barbara was George’s helpmate, supporting him in following each of his dreams. Their journey together led them to places like Midland, Texas where George would make his fortune. Later they moved to Washington D.C. and points all around the world when George decided to serve his country once again in a number of positions that ultimately led him to the White House. Along the way the two of them created a beautiful family, but also suffered the grief of losing a child. Through it all their love and optimism only grew.

Barbara was always there for George. She waited for him to return home from the war. She was the first person he saw when he came home from work. She was the source of comfort when he was dealing with the problems of the entire world. They were a real team, and their’s was the kind of marriage that stands as a model of equal partnership and mutual sacrifice. They became icons of togetherness that we all loved to see. Their union represented the best of love and devotion.

George H. W. Bush was an energetic and driven man. He did well at anything that he attempted to accomplish. He appeared to have a Midas touch, but it was in fact hard work and the backing of his family that kept him going. Mostly it was also his profound love for the United States of America and his belief that it was his duty to serve the country in any way in which he was called upon to do. He had learned that from his father and he passed the lesson on to his children. He knew that our nation had to be tough at times, but he also felt that we should strive to be kind and gentle.

George H.W. Bush was humble. Angela Merkel has called him “the father of the unification of Germany” because he was indeed the person who orchestrated the diplomacy that resulted in the demolition of the Berlin Wall. When celebrations of that event took place he insisted that the spotlight be shone on the German people. He refused to take credit for his work, instead noting that the moment belonged to Germany alone, not a particular man.

George H. W. Bush was fair minded. He loved to compete and wanted to win as much as anybody ever did, but when he was defeated in his bid for a second term as President he conceded without rancor. He hid his disappointment and worked to make the transition for President Clinton as smooth as possible. He left a generous note of encouragement for his successor even as he buried his own disappointment in his heart. Eventually he and President Clinton would become great friends, partners in efforts to help the victims of natural disasters like Katrina. Bill Clinton would become known as “Bubba” in Bush’s family, and the two would become such good friends that they were almost like father and son.

George H. W. Bush taught us so much about dignity, family, dedication, optimism and openness. In his later years he and Barbara lived in Houston, Texas and enjoyed all of the same kinds of things that we all do in this often misunderstood city. He regularly ate pizza at a family restaurant in his neighborhood. He became good friends with the owner and with all of the people that he encountered on his walks with Barbara and his dogs. As he grew frail and wheelchair bound he still found ways to get out to support the Astros and to attend  football games at Texas A&M where his presidential library is located. There was nothing stand offish or patronizing about him. He was as genuine as they come, and we Houstonians loved him and treasured him. He was one of us.

George H.W. Bush impressed those that he met with his earnest attempts to make them feel comfortable. He liked to laugh and enjoy the small moments of his life, especially when Barbara was by his side. He became one of the most brilliant points of life in our city, our country and our world.

I suppose that to me the words “Make America Great Again” would mean to find leaders more like George H.W. Bush, a hero, a statesman, a dignified, humble and honorable man who loved his God, his family and his country with all of his heart. No doubt Barbara was waiting for him when he entered heaven just as she always did here on earth. He is at peace and enjoying his just reward, but we will surely miss him. 

What’s In A Name?

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My maiden name was Little, a moniker that I milked for a very long time because I was under five feet tall until my junior year in high school. I’d tell people that they would remember my name just from looking at me. It was a bit of humor that actually worked and made me a somewhat unique. It was not until I was an adult that I learned from my grandfather how our family actually got the handle.

My paternal grandfather was born William Mack. His mother died within days of his birth and his father decided that fatherhood was not a good fit, and so Grandpa went to live with his grandmother. Sadly she was advanced in age and when he was thirteen she died leaving him orphaned for all intents and purposes. She left him a small amount of money that required a guardian, and so he ended up in family court choosing the person whom he believed would do the best job of protecting his interests. Since his father had shown given little or no attention to my grandfather’s welfare up until that point, it was decided that an uncle would assume responsibility for both my grandfather and his inheritance.

Grandpa told me that his uncle was an honorable man who graduated from West Point. His name was John Little and he had a grand if short lived military career. In the early 1900’s there was a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico and Captain Little was sent to head the recovery efforts. He was doing a yeoman’s job until he contracted typhus which unfortunately was fatal. By then my grandfather was a full fledged twenty one year old adult so he no longer required his uncle’s guidance, but he still felt a strong sense of gratitude toward the man who had helped him to reach the age independence. To honor the good man Grandpa had his name officially changed to William Mack Little.

I haven’t been able to find any information about my grandfather on ancestry.com, but I have learned that John Little was born in Tennessee. After attending West Point he married a niece of General Sherman of Civil War fame. The two of them had a daughter but their happy life together was brief. I’ve contacted members of his family to see if anyone ever heard of his guardianship of my grandfather, but nobody knows of any such thing. I suppose the history of his relationship to me has somehow been lost, a reality that pains me. It also saddens even more me to think of how many losses my grandfather had to endure before he was even fully launched into the adult world. He never knew his mother. He was abandoned by his father. His beloved grandmother died when he was just entering adolescence, and the man that he most admired died far too early. 

John Little’s obituary outlines his service to his country. It mentions that his career was promising before his sudden demise. He is buried at Governor’s Island New York on the ground of the West Point Military Academy. I would very much like one day to visit the grave of the man who so impressed my grandfather that we ended up carrying his name.

We’ve struggled a bit to keep our last name going, because only one of the youngest male descendants has married and had children, three of whom are girls. There is a lone boy who will continue forward as a Little and I would like very much to one day be able to tell him how he came to have that name. I think he would bear it even more proudly if he knew of the honor bestowed upon it by my grandfather’s uncle.

There must be other Littles out there who are distantly related to me and my brothers and our children and grandchildren. They don’t know us and we don’t know them. Our connections are lost to unfortunate circumstances and time. Still, it would be fun to find out who they are and to speak of the gratitude that my grandfather had for a long ago member of their family.

A name is little more than a string of letters unless it is attached to someone that we can identify. I feel a sense of pride in knowing what I do about John Little. I can imagine him toiling in the tropical heat of Puerto Rico to help the people of the devastated island. There is something particularly noble about that, much more so than fighting on a battlefield. I’m sure that he saved many lives before he became ill. His was an enormous sacrifice that makes me proud to continue to use his name as the middle part of my own. I somehow feel as though I know and understand him.

His photo shows a handsome, serious individual, but I suspect that he also had a sense of humor and enjoyed a good laugh now and again. How good of him it was to agree to be the guardian of an orphaned boy. Little wonder that my grandfather admired him so. I’d like to think that somehow, some way he knows that I too appreciate all that he did.

I now understand that Little is a grand name, the name of a hero, a compassionate man. It makes me hold my head a bit higher. It tells me why my own grandfather was such an honest and hard working man. In a brief moment he learned the qualities of an exceptional person from an uncle who was there when he was most needed. Thank you, John Little. We will never forget you. 

John Little

Honor the Young

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Every single time that I  hear some older person calling young people “snowflakes” I go into a slow burning rage inside my head. It is an epithet invented to cast aspersions on the thinking of  teens and twenty somethings who hold progressive points of view. The idea is that the youngsters are so fragile that they simply can’t bear critiques or differing ideologies. The insinuation is that they are silly, close minded and of little substance.

While there may very well be some young folk who are a bit spoiled and unwilling or unable to accept philosophies that run counter to theirs, the truth is that there are also middle aged individuals of more conservative bent who have the same trouble. Some of them are actually in high political positions and they often tweet their discontent. For the most part, however, I find the current crop of young men and women to be exceedingly hard working, earnest and determined to make a very positive difference in the world. The fact that they are a bit more liberal than their more aged counterparts has little to do with their level of courage or good intent.

It has long been a trend for young adults to be on a kind of search for truth and meaning in their world. It is in their natures to question the status quo and seek changes that they deem to be fair and more just.

 

Socrates once said, “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority: they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in places of exercise.” This of course was noted about four hundred years before Christ walked on the earth, and I find it remarkable how it might have been said last week by some pundit making observations about today’s kids. In fact there are many such quotes that are part of our discussions of the young versus the old in political matters. We’ve all heard the quote, “If you are not a liberal at twenty five, you have no heart. If you are not a conservative at thirty five you have no brain.” It is a bit audacious in its sweeping assumptions, but we laugh at it because it bears a grain of truth. Indeed we often become more cautious as we grow older, but that does not make us wiser or more righteous. Thus, I find it beneficial to show more respect to the thinking of our younger generation than we generally do.

In 1776, when our Founding Fathers signed the Declaration of Independence their average age was forty four. That being said more than a dozen of them were younger than thirty five and among those some were still teenagers. In fact, the American Revolution as with all such sweeping changes was much more of a young man’s cause than that of older men. James Madison was only twenty five when he penned his name on the Declaration of Independence and the current hero on Broadway, Alexander Hamilton, was a mere twenty one. Young adults are more often than not as passionately concerned about the world as those thought to be more mature.

I enjoy the conversations that I have with my former students and my grandchildren regarding the political conditions of the world today. I prefer listening to them and asking them questions rather than challenging their ideas. I find it enlightening and quite hopeful to hear just how much they have considered the various issues with which we continually grapple. They are far less likely to simply accept a particular way of thinking without considering many different possibilities. Their beliefs are mostly based on a great deal of thought and research. They are involved in internal debates as they search for the best ways of doing things. They have the audacity to think outside of the box and come up with ideas as radical as revolting against the most powerful government in the world to create a new nation conceived in liberty.

I find myself spending hours listening to young men and women who are more than ready to do their share of the heavy lifting in the world. Of course they differ somewhat from me because many of their experiences have been different from mine, but they are not unpatriotic or inconsiderate or lazy or spoiled. They simply look at the challenges that we all face from the vantage point of having an entire lifetime ahead of them rather than having walked through a lifetime. Their youthfulness does not make their thoughts any less valid than mine or any other older adults, but it does tend to make them more inclined to envision new and exciting possibilities. I find that when I listen respectfully the favor is returned when I speak. A rational and fruitful discussion ensues. It is when we disregard the fervor of a young person’s enthusiasm that we create an emotional impasse.

Each of us longs to be heard, to be understood. All we ask is that we be accorded an opportunity to speak our minds with impunity. All too often we create situations by dismissing certain forms of speech before they are even uttered, leaving us in a “them or us” kind of division. Hurling insults without thought only further inflames the situation.

During the height of the Vietnam war when so many of us were protesting what we believed to be a terrible mistake, far too many adults treated us as though we did not love our country. They did not seem to understand that it took great courage and much patriotism to speak out against what we saw as a wrong. There was a great divide that lead to unnecessary violence and clashes that might never have happened if only each group had been willing to sit quietly and consider each point of view. The frustrations came from all of the misunderstandings that came from assigning insulting labels to each cause, and pitting young people against their elders. Sadly we did not seem to learn from those mistakes.

The next time you find yourself wondering what a young person might possibly be thinking, instead of writing him/her off as a snowflake, try encouraging a true conversation with the intent of learning rather than judging. I believe that you will find that we are all seeking most of the same things, we simply have different ideas about how to achieve them.

Honor our young. They will one day be taking the reigns of leadership and helping us in our final days. I for one feel comfortable that we will be in very good hands.