Memorial Day got me thinking about how America passes its values from one generation to the next. I was irked by how Memorial Day has lost its meaning — honoring American war dead.
In my work with CEOs, I call that concept The Wisdom of the Campfire.
We have two uniquely different holidays:
Memorial Day, the third Monday in May to honor American war dead
Veterans Day, the 11th day of the 11th month to honor American veterans
It is not a hard distinction to make and yet we fail to make it constantly.
There are other American values that are also evaporating from the American psyche. In no particular order, here they are:
The Value of Knowing One’s Family History
Life is a journey. Before we head out to find our path, it is important to known from whence we have come.
We will haul that baggage with us for the rest of life, so we should know its nature.
Family is the only people who will attend our funeral when that time comes. You will return to family when it comes time to lick life’s wounds and that will happen.
The Value of Having a Personal Plan
We are all unique and we all require (deserve) a unique plan for our unique lives. But the big thing is we need a plan. It wouldn’t hurt if it was in writing and updated regularly.
Any plan beats no plan and you can end up nowhere if you have no plan to go anywhere.
The Value of Discussion
We need to value how to discuss things in which we listen, collect information, process the information, probe for more information without arriving at a conclusion.
Once we have discussed something — I like to think of it as allowing our ideas to wrestle in the public square with another’s ideas — we can fashion a stronger, fact-based conclusion.
We modify our views by absorbing new information through discussion.
I fear on the Internet today, we just comment without discussion. No probing. No information exchange or absorption. We comment to skewer the other chap.
The Value of Listening
Listening is part of discussion. We have to discipline ourselves to listen. It is a skill. Through listening the rough edges of our ideas are smoothed.
It is important we listen actively, not passively. We must ask, “Now, I think I heard you say thus and such. Did I get that right?”
In this manner, we steal the energy of another’s ideas and fuel ours with that same energy.
The Value of Argument, Persuasion
“Have you considered this?” is a far more powerful phrase than, “I think you’re wrong about this and here’s why.”
One is an attempt to persuade while the other is a fight card.
In every discussion, when we have listened, when we have ensured we heard correctly, we temper our own ideas like we water and fertilize our azaleas (planting some new azaleas, so they are on my mind) through argument and persuasion.
Part of argument is persuasion. We have forgotten how to persuade. We think argument — the wrestling match between competing ideas, the advocacy of our own ideas — is speaking louder when it is in reality being persuasive.
The Value of an Education
Education is exercise for our brains. The same way an Olympic swimmer has to be strong to compete in the butterfly (the hardest stroke), an educated man or woman is more powerful and performs at a higher level in the journey of life when an education is their traveling companion.
We are all responsible for our own education. It is one of those things that you cannot possibly get enough of.
We should study hard academic subjects, read extensively (I think you can become an educated person solely through reading), and we should be lifetime learners.
I learned to fly an airplane when I was 50 and accumulated 3,000 hours with advanced ratings (instrument pilot) thereafter. It never stops.
My constant advice to young persons is: Get up early. Work hard. Stay late. Skip lunch once or twice. Spend an hour per day educating yourself on your profession or your industry.
The Value of Discipline
We have devolved into an instant gratification society who will give Amazon no more than a day to satisfy our cravings, but what we really need is to discipline ourselves to accept life as it comes to us.
I told someone the other day the story of rationing during WWII when the majority of people were unable to get gasoline and thus they put cars up on blocks until the war ended.
With a 2020 mindset, they were unable to understand how anyone could shoulder such a burden. That generation had discipline.
The Value of Taking Care of Your Own Health
In the end, we are responsible for everything that happens or fails to happen with our health.
That requires us to eat correctly (well?), exercise, and go to the doctor for an annual physical.
Taking care of our health is not getting a better health insurance policy — which is a laudable objective on its own merits.
The Value of Enjoying Simple Things
There is nobility and pleasure in the simplest things. One of mine is floating in the ocean before or after a couple of hours of body surfing.
We need to find our safe places — God, did I just say that? By which I mean our endeavors that please our inner spirit and calm our warrior core.
Tomorrow, I will be introduced to My Perfect Granddaughter No 2, Edie Carlton Eichholz. It doesn’t get better than that.
The Value of Knowing Our History
We are Americans. Some of us by accident, some on purpose. Our fate is tied to the Founders and yet we know next to nothing about them.
We should know the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the character of the men who risked all for us, and how we fought a revolution against the most powerful army and navy the world had ever known.
We are a special people. We should all know how and why.
The Value of Knowing Our Civic Organization
We are the “united” states, not the Federal Republic of America. When we know our history, we will begin the journey to understand how we govern ourselves — that we are a Constitutional ,Bi-cameral, Three Legged Stool, Representative Republic, not a democracy.
We should know how our government, our brilliant government, is organized, from whence it derives its powers, how it functions, how its powers are balanced, and how it makes and enforces our laws.
The educated man, the man who understands our system, is a better citizen both because he can see the excesses, the omissions, but also because he can suggest changes.
You cannot participate in our republic if you don’t know how it is constituted and operated.
The Value of Returning a Good Deed
In life, we start with an empty bank of karma. We add to our balance through our good deeds. Our good deeds breed even more good deeds, which come back to us fully grown and more powerful.
In our paths, should lie a series of good deeds.
When we are the beneficiary of a good deed, we should be on our game to return that favor.
The Value of Intellectual Curiosity
All learning comes from curiosity. Even forced learning feeds the natural human inclination to be curious.
I know people who have no intellectual curiosity. We have to feed this beast.
The Value of Critical Thinking
Critical thinking — the disciplined process of actively conceptualizing, applying, synthesizing, and evaluating information (and data) that is painstakingly gathered by observation, reflection, reasoning and communication as the basis for making an informed decision — is almost non-existent.
Instead, we rely upon on feelings, our emotions, our biases, our prejudices, and pretend they are the equal of critical thinking. They are not.
There is nothing wrong with emotion and feelings as inputs into decisionmaking, as long as we understand they are not equal substitutes for critical thinking.
Before you can be a critical thinker, you must understand what it is and what it is not.
The Value of Charitable Giving and Service
In much the same way that returning a good deed brings a dividend, a return on investment — charitable giving and service enlightens our minds and our souls.
A person once asked me if I thought they had the correct level of “empathy” for a job. I asked him, “What charities do you support? What service do you perform?”
His answer informed me.
Through charitable giving and service, we embrace our own good luck. For years I wrote to a man who had lost both legs and an arm in combat. He was in a hospital in Valley Forge and would be until the end of his life.
I learned from him so many things watching him suffering with dignity and, finally, in pain. I left with an education, better for the experience. When he died, he returned to me all the letters I had ever written to him. He had underlined certain sentences, written notes on the margins, and had read them critically. I had no idea what they meant to him and what they came to mean to me.
The Value of Patriotism
Our country was born at the tip of a bloody bayonet by men who valued freedom more than loyalty to a tyrant king. They fought for our freedom against the English army and navy — the world’s most powerful. We bested them in open combat with a little help from the French. “Merci beaucoup!”
We are born of a warrior class. We cut our way free of the King of England.
In that process, we defined the rights of man as coming from our God as being “unalienable” and owned by all individuals with our government’s core responsibility to ensure those freedoms were never violated.
Today, we have devolved into a well fed and broad population in which the calling to become part of the warrior class is thinly distributed. We are a nation of strap hangers, parade gazers, men living under the umbrella of the largess of our brothers who stand watch against our enemies,
“We sleep safely at night because rough men stand ready to visit violence on those who would harm us.”
All we are called to do is to honor those patriots, to love our beautiful and extraordinarily loveable country, and to nudge her back on the path of righteousness when she stumbles. It wouldn’t hurt to vote on Election Day.
The Value of Hard Work
Men who work in offices are cheated of the feeling of one’s muscles after a day of labor. We celebrate the dignity and necessity for labor on — wait for it, please — Labor Day.
But, there is something more. When a man turns to bed, his muscles protesting, there is a fatigue, an exhaustion, a good kind of tired that says — “I am a man who is not unwilling to break a sweat to fashion my own comfort.”
Never lose contact with hard work.
The Value of Business, Capitalism
What we use, eat, have, own in life is the product of some other man’s work. Sure, we pay for it, but we reach for our wallet with the assurance that goods, services will be there for us when we want to trade our money for them.
These products are delivered through the world of business. In a capitalist country wherein the individual owns the means of production, decides what to produce, sets the prices of his product — we must honor the entrepreneurial zeal that has given us these choices.
Capitalism has delivered the highest standard of living known to mankind.
The Value of Reading Great Literature
Whenever a writer is stuck, whenever the ideas burn up like a pile of leaves, I tell people to go read good writing. I send them to the short stories of Ernest Hemingway.
Read good literature because it contains artful ideas. It provokes the mind to think. The thinking mind gives voice to words. Our words drive our actions. Our very lives are defined by what we do — not what we think, not what we speak, but what we do. AIn that doing our character is revealed by the friction of life.
At the core of thought is good writing. Read great literature with an eye toward applying its lessons in our lives.
The Value of Prayer, Religion
“There but for the grace of God, go I.”
We practice a religion in order to approach God in an orderly manner, to receive His wisdom from men and women who have listened to Him, but we can speak directly to Him whenever we have the courage to do so.
It is an easy thing to do. Best done with knees on floor, hands folded, head bowed, we ask for a single thing. “Dear God, give me the grace to meet this challenge.”
We do not ask Him to solve our problem because He gave us free will and a brain, a true north, a compass to plot our own course. But when that course is rocky or steep, we can ask Him for the grace to carry us through to the flatlands.
I once knew a man who told me, “I’m quite spiritual. I just don’t believe in organized religion.” I laughed to myself and wondered what “disorganized” religion he favored. It turned out to be sleeping late.
The Value of Thrift, Frugality
The first person we need to pay is ourselves. That is all there is to thrift. Set aside 10% of every paycheck (the gross before taxes) for the future.
In all that we buy and on all that we spend, demand fair value. A fair good, a fair price, and do without that with which we can do without. That is frugality.
The Value of Being Able to Defend Ourselves
There may come a time when your life is dependent upon your ability to defend yourself. Having gone to a military school and having served in the military which required I learn boxing and hand-to-hand combat, I got a free pass on this.
A man or a woman should learn how to defend themselves and their family.
If that inspires you to study krav maga, bravo. If you have a concealed handgun license, bravo.
Do not remit your future to “good luck.” Learn to fight to save yourself.
The Value of Property
We trade our labor for property. Property is at the core of a free country. Our government ensures that when we own property others cannot take it from us without repercussions.
At the core of many of our freedoms is our right to own things. Be mindful of your property rights.
The Power of Positive Thinking
On our shoulders sit two angels. The left shoulder harbors a fallen angel, a little devil. This one is full of plans for us that will bring short term pleasure and long term pain.
On the opposite shoulder sits our guardian angel. At times a party pooper, but a source of sound advice and good counsel.
We receive enough food for ourselves and only one of these angels. Choose wisely.
The Value of Keeping One’s Own Company
In that quiet moment before we drift off to sleep, we meet ourselves, our fears, our joys, our memories in a dark corner of our mind that is difficult to visit until a moment such as this.
When you go there, I pray that the person you meet — yourself — is one whose company you will delight in.
Read this musings. Maybe there is something of value to you. These were once the most important values of our country. They should be once again.
But, hey, what the Hell do I really know anyway? I’m just a Big Red Car. Be good, y’all. Do not kill grandma. Get back to business. Thus far, America has survived 100% of the crises we have ever faced.