By Bill and Judy Elbring
This election year our political candidates are once again making family values a campaign issue. It is time - an excellent time to examine the notion of family values. They shape our lives. What we value motivates us. We must be alert to our values and pay attention to our contribution to the process which governs our rights and actions.
Some political factions say a lack of family values is the cause of the decay and decline in American Society. Some insist that only families configured in some certain way exhibit acceptable values. Others recognize that families may look many different ways and still foster healthy values. Wholesome family values are central to the ultimate success of any society. Shared values encourage people to work together toward common goals. Different values are reflected in differences of opinion and action. Ultimately, divisive values divide people.
Above all this campaign rhetoric, we must accept that everyone has family values - whether we approve of them or not. They guide everything everyone does. The issue is not whether we have them; the issue is whether these values create the kind of results we want. Which are the key values? Which values include us and let us live in harmony? Or, at least, let us live... .
How would we know how well we are doing as a society? Look at the society we have created. Our cities are frightening places, shattered by violence. Many smaller towns no longer feel safe to all their citizens. Young people are more likely to die at the hand of another than by disease or accident. Families are rupturing. Divorce rates are staggering. Over half of first marriages fail. Second marriages do worse. Rather than working to keep the promises and resolve the problems, couples get divorced. And when children are part of the relationship, they get caught in the cross-fire. The safety net of the family is breaking apart and our children are slipping through . We are spending more money to defend ourselves from imagined enemy attack than to feed our children's bodies, hearts and minds and to educate them for right livelihood. Our children are suffering from broken promises, broken homes and broken dreams. Our relationships aren't healthy. Our families are crying out in pain .
The discord raised by differing family values extends far beyond our national boundaries. Our world cries out in pain, too. Hundreds of thousands of families, no matter what their values, are not safe in their homes or on their streets. We are now learning the terrible price exacted and paid by the peoples of the former Yugoslavia. The Tutsis and Hutus are still slaughtering each other is bursts of spiraling ethnic violence. After a brief respite from the insanity, just long enough for children to begin to feel safe enough to play in their neighborhoods, Northern Ireland is erupting again. The middle East is in an escalating state of tension and threat with Islamic extremists willing to terrorize and kill to maintain their family values. Every country has its own wrenching tragedies.
We must understand that most of this chaos is the result of conflicting family values, not the absence of them. Too many of these values are real enough: blind hatred and mistrust for Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Arabs, Christians, Muslims, Serbs, Tutsis, Hutus, White, Black, Asian, Gays, Lesbians... them! Where does it stop? We are killing each other with ignorance, indifference, shame, righteousness, intolerance. We must get this stopped!
What are we to do? There is something each one of us can do to initiate change and begin restoration. We begin with ourselves. We can discover and become clear on what our family values are. Most often than not, they are the same values that were handed down to us, mostly unexamined and unquestioned, from the previous generation, likely for many generations. Each of us must examine our own values so that we know the "value" climate in which we were raised.
Then each of us can address and ask ourselves these important questions: Which values did I accept? Which do I respect and which do I reject? Are my values inclusive or divisive? Do they work well for me? Do they work well for my family? Do we all communicate clearly? Does the love flow easily? Do we value one another's opinions? Do we foster healthy attitudes towards work and play? Are we at least tolerant if not actually encouraging of one another's differences?
Or, did we learn to fear those who appear different from us? To hate those who hold beliefs different from ours? To destroy those with whom we disagree? Do our values simply guide our actions, or do they insist that others behave a certain way?
Current conditions in our world demonstrate the crisis in our families. The depth of this crisis is reflected by our children. The manifest our fears and hatreds as surely as they reflect our compassion and love. When we see the terrible numbers of families hurting and destroying each other, we must wonder what we are teaching our children.
Children express what we show them we value. And we show them every moment by how we treat ourselves and each other. We learned how to be in relationship with a future life partner by watching how our parents behaved towards each other . We determined our own worth by how our parents treated us - and how they treated each other, our brothers and sisters, friends and neighbors, strangers and family. People who are different. Unusual behavior. Personal talents. Individual life styles. Authority. New ideas. The list goes on. What values did our family live?
We, each of us individually, have the power to choose what we will and will not pass on to others. This is how to stop bigotry and intolerance, hatred and violence. Consciously or unconsciously, we persistently demonstrate our values, whatever they are, through what we do and say. We can choose only if we are conscious of our values.
It is time to wake up! We must get to work, beginning at home, right now, within our own family. We must look around us and ask what is needed. We can learn how to treat each other responsibly, with reverence, dignity and appropriate regard. Give each other room to grow. Respect our differences. Honor our commitments. Be honest and kind, gentle and patient with one another. Play joyfully and work diligently side by side.
We have to educate ourselves about how best to share this very small planet with all its inhabitants. On Earth, we are one large family. Each one of us does make a difference. We need to be in full life partnerhip for all of us to live and give our children a healthy legacy for their lives. The time to act is now!