Monday, February 20, 2012

The Right Stuff

            I’m in a mood, okay? Read on with that little forewarning.
            I’m old fashioned. I’m a dinosaur. Ask me if I care.
            I was raised in a culture of honesty and honor. When I was a kid, no one locked their doors at night. People went away for days at a time and left the house unlocked. My first paying job was for a man who had peach and apple orchards and a huge garden and sold his produce at a roadside stand. He didn’t tend the stand; no one did. The individual items were priced and a five gallon glass jar stood beside the door. People selected their produce and put the money in the jar. If they needed change, they made it themselves from the jar. It was called the honor system. My dad asked him one day if he lost any money. He replied that over the course of a summer he might lose a dollar or two. It was called, I’ll be redundant because some things are worth repeating; it was called the honor system.
            When I was a kid, the phrase, ‘his word was his bond’ still applied. If someone said he or she would do something, it was a binding contract and he/she did it, even if it cost him/her financially in the end. I once overheard a contract at the local general store when a poor man, a very poor man, bargained his labor for some groceries. He worked at the store every day after his regular job until he paid off the debt. You see, it didn’t matter who you were; it didn’t matter if you were on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder, your word was your bond.
            My parents taught me, by word and by example, and the culture around me taught me, that duty was one of the highest goods, that being worthy of another’s trust was more valuable than money, and that honesty and honor were the true marks of humanity, the marks that really separate us from the beasts.
            What happened?
            I wish I knew the answer. If I did, maybe I could understand the world I see around me and maybe it wouldn’t make me so sad to see the endless striving after the wind.
            Maybe it’s just me. I have to admit to that possibility because I have some curious buttons. The national anthem can still bring a tear to my eye. If you saw the second Lord of the Rings movie, you may remember that the forces of good are holed up in Helm’s Deep and they know they have little chance against the legions of the evil army. Then, unexpectedly, a company of elves shows up to honor an ancient alliance and to fight with the men. The first time I saw that scene, I got choked up. Honor, courage, loyalty. My favorite novel of all time is ‘Watership Down’. I’ve read it a dozen times. It’s about rabbits. Well, rabbits are the characters, but it’s about friendship, trust, honor, courage and loyalty.
            So, maybe it’s just me. Maybe I expect too much from our frail humanity. That could be because I am, after all, a dinosaur. Ask me if I care.

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