- - Thursday, August 7, 2014

With all the turmoil in the world, many people are feeling uneasy, wondering if they should feel guilty for going on with their lives. While it’s not time to duck and cover, there is a reason for this unease.

Russian President Putin is violating a decades-old nuclear arms treaty without so much as blinking an eye. The Kremlin deputy prime minister tweeted an insolent photo of President Obama so belittling that it trended as #SissyBomb. The “I can pick on my family but you can’t” standard applies here. We can criticize our president, but Russian thug leaders can’t. The absence of any response or demand for an apology from our government, which supposedly understands diplomacy better than any previous administration, is telling.

History teaches that when great nations have collapsed, it wasn’t because of one single blow. With a few exceptions, it was a gradual weakening from within that made them susceptible to either invasion or coup. This is happening to America right now. We’re vulnerable to foreign threats because we are weakening our republic from within our own borders.

The list of causes of concern, foreign and domestic, is long and needs no recitation. A glimpse at any newspaper will suffice.

These crises can seem overwhelming and it’s tempting for most of us to choose apathy or intentional disengagement as a coping mechanism.

Just because America’s government may be projecting weakness, it doesn’t mean the American public has to follow suit.

There are changes in our daily lives that we can make to fight American decline. Here are my top three suggestions:

1) Don’t accept mediocrity just because it’s free.

This attitude makes us ripe for government dependency. Dependency on anything except God or the resources of loved ones in community makes us weak and vulnerable to government offers of security-for-liberty.

On a recent trip to Ireland, I met a local man who had severe knee problems. He was boasting that, because of Ireland’s government health care system, he didn’t have to pay a dime for his treatment. He had to wait a year-and-a-half for his surgery, and in that waiting period he had no treatment at all. Now, post surgery he has been content to endure pain and strenuous physical therapy to mitigate some of the damage caused by government rationing-through-delay. When I asked him if this suffering could have been avoided if the surgery hadn’t been delayed, he said, “Of course, but this is the way it is. As long as I am OK with this, I don’t have to pay for anything.”

This willingness to endure state-induced loss of human dignity that a serious health condition and resulting lost time from work creates is sadly not limited to the health care context. Too many of our unemployed neighbors are trapped in the indignity of receiving more through government programs than they would through the jobs available to them in this economy. I’ve talked to several people locked in the catch-22 of so-called “government benefits.” They are struggling with a lack of that self-worth and purpose that only comes from working hard to provide for your loved ones. Yet, our “new normal” of negligible economic growth and flat wages traps our struggling fellow Americans in this cycle of indignity and dependency.

There’s a reason that loving parents have always kicked their kids out of the house after a certain age, that mothers have always pestered their children to get married, that fathers have always encouraged their children to buy a home as soon as they could. What does it mean that fewer and fewer of our young people are able to follow such time-tested nagging advice? What would we say about parents who didn’t fight for those opportunities for their kids? What kind of government stands in the way of these young people, who are the real “Dreamers” deserving of our leaders’ attention?

With government dependency at an all-time high, the collective character of our nation is morphing into one that will accept whatever mediocrity the government provides, one hopeless young American at a time. Blink and we’ll be Western Europe. Blink twice and we’ll be Eastern Europe.

But you can do your part — the character of every individual contributes to the character of our nation as a whole. Don’t accept government mediocrity just because it’s free or subsidized.

2) Don’t coddle your kids: The best contribution to society that parents can make is to raise good, well-informed citizens who love their country.

Many studies show there is an alarming rise in spoiling and coddling children. Today’s children don’t climb trees as much because they might get hurt. They get a band-aid and ice cream for a slightly scraped knee. They’re protected from every trivial risk except the grave risk of not knowing how to take risks. Risk-taking is required when striving for that “A” or applying to college, or starting a business, or sending out a manuscript for publication, or asking your sweetheart to marry you, for taking out a mortgage, for challenging a politician at a town hall or in a primary.

Recent studies show the negative impact coddling has on children later in life; fear of risks and challenges, lack of leadership skills, lack of respect and responsibility, and an inability to differentiate between wants and needs. You know, like someone who indulges the want to golf instead of addressing the need to contain Russian aggression.

The problems our country face will not be fixed in one presidential term. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take a new generation of risk takers and leaders who love their country. So parents, please, don’t coddle your kids. We need them strong and brave.

3) Don’t avoid politics and religion: We’ve all heard the adage that it’s rude to discuss politics and religion in mixed company. As a former agnostic liberal turned conservative Catholic, I disagree with this! I once eagerly gobbled up any sound bite that sounded good and caring. I didn’t give much thought to the substance of what I believed. If it weren’t for my close friends willing to challenge my political beliefs, I would not have been motivated to dig deeper. And if it were not for the respectful and thoughtful manner in which my beliefs were challenged, I would not have been open a different viewpoint.

We must speak up, yet we must do it with a non-belligerent, inviting approach. Politics is simply the conflict of ideas, which are not created equal. Religion is simply the search for the good, true and beautiful. If there’s anything that fueled our Founders’ courage and sacrifice, it was politics and religion. Without a rigorous debate of the issues facing our country, winning elections and changing the electorate rests entirely on soundbites from pundits and campaign commercials. Not likely.

You and I can’t save the republic in a day. We can’t ensure that every American chases that American Dream with gusto. But we can take these small steps in our own hearts, in our own families and around our own dinner tables. Let’s do our part!

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