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I watched the television with my family the other day. There was an action movie playing. The dialogue was excited. It was a steady stream of foul, crude epithets that shocked me as it reverberated off the walls of my home. Equally distressing was the fact that the "action" was very violent and "well depicted" maiming and bloodletting. When asked, my kids told me they had not paid attention to the foul language. It was just as bad walking through the halls at school. It is as common in public places. Nor had the bloodletting and maiming had any particular significance to them. If it had, the significance had not registered. It was a part of the action. It's only a story, was their observation.
I can recall as a young father being stunned when a picture of a Vietnamese soldier being shot to death in the streets of Vietnam appeared on the front page of the evening paper. When I was growing up pictures of the carnage of warfare and graphic descriptions were not topics of public conversation much less images for the newspaper. They were considered too crude and ugly for general distribution. If foul language escaped one's lips, it was a cause for embarrassment and an apology to all within hearing. It was an indication of a lack of education and poor upbringing to resort to its use at any time. Now we live in a time when crudity and violence assaults our ears, our sight and our lives in such a steady stream that it does not even register as out of the ordinary within the walls of one's own home.
I have read article after article in newspapers and magazines revealing the material and physical trauma the wars and bloodshed of the Middle East and Europe have caused, especially on the young. The events of Sept. 11 have had a profound effect on young and old alike in our own society. People in neighborhoods throughout the country are being traumatized by "urban warfare." Yet we glamorize violence and crudity in movies. We trumpet it in our daily lives through the media. We tolerate crudeness and ugliness in public discourse and entertainment. Dag Hammarskjold, former Secretary General of the United Nations observed, "You cannot play with the animal in you without becoming wholly animal, play with falsehood without forfeiting your right to truth, play with cruelty without losing your sensitivity of mind. He who wants to keep his garden tidy doesn't reserve a plot for weeds." Are we weeding the gardens in our lives?
My experience caused me to reflect on the writings of the Old Testament from the Book of Genesis, Chapter 6. Noah lived during a time when "... God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his hearts was only evil continually. And it repented the Lord that he had made on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart. And the Lord said, "I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repenteth me that I have made them..." What was it that God was so displeased with? In reading further, the scriptures declare, "And God said unto Noah, the end of all flesh is come before me; for the earth is filled with violence through them; and, behold, I will destroy them..."
Many years have passed since the flood that cleansed the earth. Fortunately, there has also been marked progress in civilizing the world's population, but building and maintaining a civilized society requires strong moral leadership. Theodore Roosevelt observed, "Every great nation owes to the men (and women) whose lives have formed part of its greatness not merely the material effect of what they did, not merely the laws they placed upon the statute books or the victories they won over armed forces, but also their immense but indefinable moral influence upon the national character. It is not only the country which these men helped to make and helped to save that is ours; we inherit also all that is best and highest in their characters and in their lives."
What then is the legacy of this generation? Consider the effects of all the that transpires from day to day on the impressionable minds of our young people. What is the home environment preparing their minds and hearts for? What is the media teaching them about their role in the world in which they live? As parents, teachers and leaders are we being considerate of how our conduct affects those for whom we have responsibility? Are our lives a worthy model for the impressionable minds of the young to look to and emulate? Will they take from our lives "all that is best and highest" in our own character? We are a liberty loving people but liberty does not mean license to destroy what is noble and good. Liberty requires responsibility and responsibility requires right conduct. Right conduct assures the rising generation of a foundation from which to build a better society. Society begins with a family. How well we live the virtues and moral principals of life in our families in the final analysis will in large measure be manifest in the society around us. The future is in our hands. Our legacy is...?
Britt Gibson is the director of public affairs of the Juneau Alaska of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.