Most birthdays come and go, yet some seem to linger longer in your mind.
Turning 62 is sort of a milestone, I guess. In my 20’s that seemed so old; now, not so much.
One of the blessings of added years is perspective. You have lived long enough to see so many fads come and go that you begin to forget when they occurred. But you also begin to realize that other things have gone away too — two of which are necessary for a just and civil society.
Reading Peggy Noonan’s Saturday column brought a couple to mind: propriety and leadership.
With all the hoopla these past few days about an under-talented Disney star writhing about in her skivvies, ‘twerking’ a guy dressed in a Beetlejuice suit who looked old enough to be her dad, and lolling her giraffe-like tongue around like she was reaching for tasty morsels in the hands of audience members, it is easy to forget that it is we who should be shamed by this, in addition to her.
Where we once practiced propriety, maintained self-respect, and demanded civility, we now accept impropriety, self-loathing and incivility.
As I age, I constantly step back to wonder if I am now the “old guy” I recall from my youth, always grousing about “better days”. But no, that is not me. I think I stay in touch as well as anyone with the mood of the day, trends, fashions, etc., and yet I fear that we leave behind the foundational basis for how a civil society bonds, shares common virtues, and passes down to each generation the values that have served humanity so well.
We must demand better, expect better, and behave better. The erosion of civility works part and parcel with the erosion of civil society, no matter what your age. I am all for what Vonnegut described as standing out on the edge, but perhaps we have just decided to jump off the edge.
The second quality we seem to lack is leadership.
Too much of what we accept is boiled over Madison Avenue marketing designed to have us buy into the packaged candidate.
Instead we should be evaluating the person running — not who the ads say they are. Noonan cites Ronald Reagan as one who was one of us, whether you followed his philosophy or not, you knew he truly understood you, had worked hard all his life, just like you, and that he believed in you and your capacity as an American.
He didn’t consult polls to decide what to say or how to vote. He led from the front of the pack, started the parade, and you followed. Too many who would now pose as leaders wait for the parade to start then they jump in front as if they had been there all along. We need more leadership — more public servants who choose to tackle the tough issues without concern for the next election, more office holders who cherish the rights and values given to us freely and who are willing to continue to earn our trust by hard work, deep thinking, and a willingness to lead by showing us options for a better country.
Being a true leader is not easy. But until we begin to demand and yes also allow, true leadership, we will continue to wallow in the mire and bicker among ourselves.
True leaders will emerge when we demand they do. Solutions to the problems we face will emerge when we embrace the willingness to allow those who seek to serve to propose answers and test solutions, even those we may not immediately like.
How long can an advanced society endure when only 19 percent of high school graduates are capable of fully performing college level work?
There is no litmus test for leadership just like there is no menu for propriety and civility. We will know it when we see it.
Hopefully it will emerge soon.