Tuesday, August 18, 2009

America in Decline?

I take the liberty today of publishing a letter to the editor of the Deseret Morning News -- an "opposing point of view," if you will to my own thoughts about America. You be the judge about who's more accurate. I have no idea who this person is, but I could not disagree with his assessment more strenuously:

"There are four generations alive today — matures (age 62 and up), baby boomers (43-61), Gen X (28-42) and Gen Y (under 28). These groups will be remembered by historians as the ones who gave up on democracy and opted for unrestrained presidential government much like that of the emperors of Europe in centuries gone by.

"I propose a different set of names for them, designated by W, D, M and N.

"Generation W participated in World War II. In spite of their dedication to the traditional American two-parent family, the war shaped their lives in a very bad way.

"Generation D, born mostly in the 1950s, felt the pain of their parents, gyrated to rock 'n' roll, divorced their spouses in massive numbers and slipped badly in terms of personal ethics.

"Generation M. Many of these children were born on Medicaid and were fed, clothed and housed by central government.

"They gave birth to Generation N, who are confused and narcissistic; interested mostly in seeing themselves in the mirror and on Facebook.

"Unnecessary foreign military adventure leads to social anarchy, central government expansion and a morbid focus on entertainment and individualism.

"Happy trails, America."

Robert Kimball Shinkoskey
Woods Cross

With all due respect to this letter writer, he obviously is not acquainted with my youngest child, Merilee, who no doubt loves having her picture taken (she's gorgeous), talented and is enraptured with Facebook. But after dropping her off yesterday at the college of her choice and thus bestowing upon us the dubious distinction of "empty nesters," Merilee is nevertheless a perfect rebuttal to Shinkoskey's negative assessment of what he refers to as "Generation N." She has chosen college, acquired the funds to make her dream come true almost entirely on her own, and is anything but "narcissistic" and "confused." She is bright, cheerful, committed and attracts light and goodness to her because of her choices. She is the antithesis of Shinkoskey's pessimism and stands as a shining example of what the living prophets among us today have hoped their generation would become.

Despite the short physical distance in proximity to the headquarters of the Church, the letter writer has failed to compensate for his pessimism in what could be a more optimistic outlook than he otherwise displays in his letter.

It has been my great blessing during my entire life to be not only in close physical proximity to the living prophets, but more importantly in close spiritual proximity to them. I find my whole soul resonating with their inspired insights and wisdom. It has ever been thus, and I pray that as long as I draw breath on this earth it may ever be so.

The men we sustain as living prophets have all been intimately acquainted with the sunshine and the shadows of life. I know that much of what they teach comes from their own intimate circumstances with the woes and travails of the members of the Church. They often are put in a position of knowing the darkest details of the lives of members of the Church as they review the minutes of disciplinary councils that are held all around the world. When they warn of specific pitfalls and wayward behavior it is because they are all too familiar with the details of how people fall and succumb. No one abhored the evils of pornography more than President Gordon B. Hinckley, but he remained optimistic. In spite of the realities of life with which they were intimately familiar, it has been my experience that the living prophets are humble, joyful, and for the most part optimistic in spite of the obvious tragedies to which they are routinely exposed.

This has been true of all of them in general, but no one was more optimistic than President Gordon B. Hinckley, whose face accompanies today's post. Here's a brief sampling from two periods in his life to demonstrate his consistency of thought and action -- the first from a BYU Devotional address on October 29, 1974, entitled "Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled," the second from his best-selling book, Standing for Something (Random House, Inc.: New York, 2000, 99-107), soon after he was sustained as the President of the Church.

With all due respect to our letter writer, I choose to accept President Hinckley as my authority on the condition of America!

Recently I spent the better part of a week in Washington, D.C., living in a hotel room. Each morning I watched the early news on television and then read the morning paper while eating breakfast. President Ford had just granted a pardon to his predecessor. The amount of venom that spewed from the mouths and pens of the commentators was unbelievable. They were aflame with indignation. In all that week of morning watching and reading I never heard nor read among the commentators and editorialists a single paragraph of positive thought. The speakers were brilliant. They were men of incisive language, scintillating in expression. The columnists were masters of the written word. With studied art they poured out the sour vinegar of invective and anger, judging as if all wisdom belonged to them. At the conclusion of that week, I too made a negative observation. Said I, "Surely this is the age and place of the gifted pickle sucker."

The tragedy is that this spirit is epidemic. Criticism, fault-finding, evil speaking--these are of the spirit of the day. They are in our national life. To hear tell these days, there is nowhere a man of integrity among those holding political office. In many instances this spirit has become the very atmosphere of university campuses. The snide remark, the sarcastic gibe, the cutting down of associates--these, too often, are of the essence of our conversation. In our homes wives weep and children finally give up under the barrage of criticism leveled by husbands and fathers. Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, sometimes a catalyst that leads to failure. Even in the Church it sows the seed of inactivity and finally apostasy.

I come this morning with a plea that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that we "accentuate the positive." I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment virtue and effort. I am not asking that all criticism be silenced. Growth comes of correction. Strength comes of repentance. Wise is the man who can acknowledge mistakes pointed out by others and change his course. I am not suggesting that our conversation be all honey and blossoms. Clever expression that is sincere and honest is a skill to be sought and cultivated.

What I am suggesting and asking is that we turn from the negativism that so permeates our society and look for the remarkable good in the land and times in which we live, that we speak of one another's virtues more than we speak of one another's faults, that optimism replace pessimism, that our faith exceed our fears.

When I was a boy our father often said to us:

Cynics do not contribute.

Skeptics do not create.

Doubters do not achieve.

Challenges to Our Political System [remember, this is 1974!]

I should like to say a few words about America. I know that there are many here who come from other lands. I think I have been in all of the lands from which you come. I appreciate your people, their innate goodness, their art, their industry, their strength. I have marveled at the beauty of the earth, the wonder and magnificence of God's creations, as I have seen them in every part of the world. No land is without its beauty, no people without their virtues, and I hope that you who come from elsewhere will pardon my saying a few words concerning my own native land, America. I know that she has problems. We have heard so much of them for so long. But surely this is a good land, a choice land, a chosen land. To me it is a miracle, a creation of the Almighty. It was born of travail. The Constitution under which we live is the keystone of our nation. It was inspired of God. Of it, the great Gladstone said, "As the British Constitution is the most subtle organism which has proceeded from progressive history, so the American Constitution is the most wonderful work ever struck off at a given time by the brain and purpose of man" ("Kin Beyond the Sea," North American Review, September 1878).

In a few months we shall celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the founding of the nation. Is it not a miracle that through these two centuries of time our system of government has remained intact, our Constitution has held while storms have beaten about us from within and without?

There is too much fruitless, carping criticism of America. Perhaps the times are dark. There have been dark days in every nation. I should like to repeat the words of Winston Churchill spoken exactly thirty-three years ago today. Bombs were then dropping on London. The German juggernaut had overrun Austria, Czechoslovakia, France, Belgium, Holland, Norway, Russia. All of Europe was in the dread grasp of tyranny, and England was to be next. In that dangerous time, when the hearts of many were failing, this great Englishman said:

Do not let us speak of darker days; let us speak rather of sterner days. These are not dark days; these are great days--the greatest days our country has ever lived; and we must all thank God that we have been allowed, each of us according to our stations, to play a part in making these days memorable in the history of our race. [Address at Harrow School, 29 October 1941]

Earlier he had said to his people and to the whole world, following the catastrophe at Dunkirk when the prophets of doom foretold the end of Britain:

We shall not flag or fail. . . . We shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender. [Speech on Dunkirk, House of Commons, 4 June 1940]

It was such talk as this, and not the critical faultfinding of glib cynics, that preserved the great people of Britain through those dark and deadly days when all the world thought their little island would go under.

It shall be so with America if we will do less speaking of her weaknesses and more of her goodness and strength and capacity. I was stirred in my heart by the words of our late, great President Harold B. Lee, who, speaking to a group such as this, said:

This nation, founded on principles laid down by men whom God raised up, will never fail. . . . I have faith in America. You and I must have faith in America if we understand the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ. [Deseret News, 27 October 1973]

I doubt not that we shall have days of trial. I am confident that so long as we have more politicians than statesmen, we shall have problems. But I am certain that if we will emphasize the greater good and turn our time and talents from vituperative criticism, from constantly looking for evil, and lift our sights to what may be done to build strength and goodness in our nation, America shall continue to go forward with the blessing of the Almighty and stand as an ensign of strength and peace and generosity to all the world.

Economic Challenges

We hear much talk of economic depression these days. Heaven forbid that we should ever slip again into the kind of monetary quagmire through which we struggled in the 1930s. Those were the days of the long soup lines, of suicides that came of discouragement, of a bleakness of life which few of you can understand. I hope and pray that such hard times will never come again. But I think it not impossible or even improbable if enough people, in the spirit of negativism and defeatism, talk about it and predict it. We are the creatures of our thinking. We can talk ourselves into defeat or we can talk ourselves into victory.

Likewise, it is so in the Church. We even have some who quibble and fret over little things, evidently totally unaware of the majestic destiny of this, the work of God.

When gold was discovered in California in January of 1848, men of the Mormon Battalion were there and participated in the discovery. Completing their contract, they came to the Salt Lake Valley to join their families. Some of them brought with them gold, and in the hard and desperate days that followed, particularly in the bitter winter if 1848–49, many wanted to go to California, where life was easier and gold was to be picked from the riverbeds. In that time of gloom, Brigham Young stood before the people in the old Bowery on Temple Square and said:

Some have asked me about going. I have told them that God has appointed this place for the gathering of his saints, and you will do better right here than you will by going to the gold mines. . . . We have been kicked out of the frying pan into the fire, out of the fire into the middle of the floor, and here we are and here we will stay. God has shown me that this is the spot to locate his people, and here is where they will prosper. . . . We shall build a city and a temple to the most high god in this place. We will extend our settlements to the east and west, to the north and south, and we will build towns and cities by the hundreds, and thousands of the saints will gather in from the nations of the earth. This will become the great highway of the nations. Kings and emperors and the noble and wise of the earth will visit us here, while the wicked and ungodly will envy us our comfortable homes and possessions. [Autobiography of James Brown, pp. 119–23, cited by Preston Nibley, Brigham Young, the Man and His Work (Salt Lake City: Deseret News Press, 1936), pp. 127–28]

What a remarkable statement under such circumstances!

My heart goes out to those who were cold and hungry that winter. I am sure there was much of grumbling and criticism, and understandably so. But how marvelous when a man looked beyond the winter and spoke as a prophet, under the power of the Holy Spirit, of better days to come.

Those days have come. Last year more people visited Temple Square in Salt Lake City than visited Yellowstone Park. This has become the great highway of the nations. Kings and emperors and the noble and wise of the earth constantly visit us here.

Brigham Young went on to say on that occasion:

It is our duty to preach the gospel, gather Israel, pay our tithing, and build temples. The worst fear that I have about this people is that they will get rich in this country, forget God and his people, wax fat, and kick themselves out of the Church and go to hell. This people will stand mobbing, robbing, poverty and all manner of persecution, and be true. It my greater fear for them is that they cannot stand wealth; and yet they have to be tried with riches, for they will become the richest people on this earth. [Nibley, Brigham Young, p. 128]

To which I can hear many of you say, "Hasten the day."

I believe that day, spoken of by Brigham Young with a voice of prophecy that rose above the voices of defeat and criticism, has come. We have been blessed with the bounties of heaven and the bounties of earth. Oh, how magnificently and munificently we have been blessed! Now, with gratitude in our hearts, let us not dwell upon the few problems we have. Let us rather count our blessings and in a great spirit of gratitude, motivated by a great faith, go forth to build the kingdom of God in the earth.

Now this from President Hinckley's more recent inspired declarations in Standing for Something:

We live in an intriguing age, a curious age in many respects, an age in which the ability and power to communicate, and therefore to influence and persuade, reign supreme. With the proliferation of technology, and the various forms of media clamoring to take advantage of it, has come an interesting side effect. It seems today that we are subjected to a constant barrage of character assassination that has nearly obscured national discussion of vital issues -- issues that truly could and would improve the daily lives of men and women, boys and girls. A large factor in all of this is the media. Pick up any major daily newspaper or weekly news magazine, or turn to the news on any one of the many available channels. It is impossible to read the columns or listen to the commentaries without sensing that there is a terrible ailment of gloom in this land. We are constantly fed a steady and sour diet of pessimism, faultfinding, second-guessing, and evil speaking one of another. The pathetic fact is: Negativism sells.

Some writers of our news columns are brilliant. They are men and women of incisive language and scintillating expression. They are masters of the written and spoken word. Likewise, some television commentators are masters. But some seem unable to deal with balanced truth, notwithstanding their protests to the contrary. The attitude of many is negative. With studied art, they pour out their vinegar of invective and anger, judging as if all wisdom belonged to them. Under the guise of analysis and informed opinion, they frequently dwell on their subjects' failings rather than their strengths. If we took such pundits seriously, we might think the whole nation and indeed the whole world was going down the drain. There have been times when a particularly heavy dose of such cynicism has caused me to reflect that surely this is the age and place of the gifted pickle sucker!

A sustained diet of a negative point of view has serious repercussions. The negative becomes the stuff of headlines and long broadsides that in many cases are caricatures of the facts. This spirit of negativism grows and begins to hang as a cloud over the land, providing a misleading portrait of the facts and, in the process, reaching down to the individual man and woman and influencing attitudes, outlook, and even values.

The tragedy is that the spirit is epidemic. Read the letters to the editor in almost any daily newspaper. Some of them are filled with venom, written by people who seem to find no good in the world or in their associates. To hear tell, nowhere is there a person of integrity holding public office. Businesspeople are all crooks. The utilities are out to rob the public. The snide remark, the sarcastic jibe, the cutting down of associates -- these too often are the essence of our conversation. Closer to home, husbands chafe, wives weep, and children finally give up under the barrage of criticism leveled by family members at each other. Criticism is the forerunner of divorce, the cultivator of rebellion, the catalyst that accelerates to failure.

It will do us no good to be naive about the challenges we face in this country. We do have problems, and they are not a few. There are issues that demand our earnest, inspired attention. But there is too much fruitless carping and criticism of America. What might become of this land if we spoke less of its weaknesses and more of its goodness and strength, its capacity and potential? Without doubt, we shall have days of trial. So long as we have more politicians than statesmen, we shall have problems. But if we will turn our time and talents away from vituperative criticism, away from constantly looking for evil, and will emphasize instead the greater good, America will continue to go forward with the blessing of the Almighty and stand as an ensign of strength and peace and generosity to all the world. This is a great land, a choice land, a chosen land.

I am an optimist! What a wonderful time it is to be alive, here at the turn of a milestone century! With that frame of reference, my plea is that we stop seeking out the storms and enjoy more fully the sunlight. I am suggesting that as we go through life, we "accentuate the positive." I am asking that we look a little deeper for the good, that we still our voices of insult and sarcasm, that we more generously compliment and endorse virtue and effort. . .

We have so much to live for, so much to hope for! Humanity is essentially good. We are all of one great family. We can give strength to the voice of the hope. We can give thanks to those who work for peace. We can give added attention to those who feed the hungry and bind up the wounds of conflict. To the extent we cultivate this virtue of optimism, we will bless all the world's peoples.


  1. Interesting blog, but it’s missing an important part of the equation: Generation Jones (born 1954-1965, between the Boomers and Generation X). Google Generation Jones, and you’ll see it’s gotten a ton of media attention, and many top commentators from many top publications and networks (Washington Post, Time magazine, NBC, Newsweek, ABC, etc.) now specifically use this term. In fact, the Associated Press' annual Trend Report forcast the Rise of Generation Jones as the #1 trend of 2009.

    It is important to distinguish between the post-WWII demographic boom in births vs. the cultural generations born during that era. Generations are a function of the common formative experiences of its members, not the fertility rates of its parents. Many experts now believe it breaks down more or less this way:

    DEMOGRAPHIC boom in babies: 1946-1964
    Baby Boom GENERATION: 1942-1953
    Generation Jones: 1954-1965
    Generation X: 1966-1978

    Here is an op-ed about GenJones as the new generation of leadership in USA TODAY:

    Here's a page with a good overview of recent media interest in GenJones:

  2. I liked the USA TODAY article a lot, and your comments provided the "missing link" between the generations -- thanks for your contribution.

  3. Daughter Emily sent this in an e-mail:

    Good stuff Dad- Jay's parents just emailed us the link to Sean Hannity's show of Obama's terriorist/radical ties and the email and show were very depressing. They said Fox was supposed to re-air the show and then pulled it, so someone put it on You Tube and sent an email saying to hurry and watch it before they pull it off there. It's all just sick. I appreciate your optimism. So it seems most of us don't want to claim Obama as our president, but someone voted for him -- otherwise he wouldn't be in office right. Now it is our responsibility to support and pray for and hope that all will continue to move forward in our great country for the greater good. It is a comfort to me to know that ultimately, the Lord is in control, He knows what is happening and why and what needs to happen to enable the gospel to go forth throughout the whole earth. If we are in the place we need to be and are continually striving to live according to the Lord's will... no matter what happens... all will be well. It is all part of the plan.

    Love you,


  4. Dad- thanks for the sweet part about me in there. I love you and mom and just everyone so much and I hope I'm not what our generation is all about. I'm not perfect but I'm really trying hard. I love you all. I love these blogs so much. It makes me feel like I'm still in the loop. Love you!

    Mer :)