Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Time In Which We Come of Age©

Updated: 4 July 2017

I read something Elizabeth Dole said at a university commencement in 2015 that put into words something which I have been concerned about for the past several years. Admittedly, capturing such amorphous, fuzzy, misty thoughts floating around in my mind is not a strong suit. But ... I am pretty good at recognizing them when someone else crystallizes them in words. Here is what she said:  “In addition to the wonderful skills, traits and knowledge you have learned at Norwich [University], the time in which you came of age has shaped your perspective in a unique and profound way.”(1)  A common notion you may say. Good for you, but I have been thinking about the problems which exist because of the “generation gap” for a long time and I never quite got my finger on this button. Now I have it quite a few things come into much clearer perspective.
Mrs. Dole frames this idea in a fairly positive context with a bit of a warning about growing up in the age of information and connectivity. For me her insight illuminated the potential source of a number of problems I observed as I spent my life teaching the young and experienced an ever widening gap as I grew older, but the students sitting before me were generally the same age from year to year. I have also observed the reality of her insight in my children and especially my grandchildren.
The crux of the problem I have observed is that each generation (20 years or two decades or so in length), grow up thinking that their way of seeing and thinking and feeling is the correct way to see, think, and feel. Of course, what else are they to assume? Here is where wise parents and educators come in. It is their duty to help the most recent generations learn that what they see, think, and feel is shaped by the time and place in which they come of age.  But it has not always been the way it is now, and that others growing up in another time or another place, many of whom are still alive, are shaped by their times and places too. Therefore, there are many different ways of perceiving the world, and of thinking and feeling about it. Thus, they should exercise some caution, judgment, and a modicum of humility before making too many assumptions and judgments about the relative superiority of their time and place and especially of their way of living, thinking, evaluating, and judging.
Because ... it is entirely possible that in the rapid pace of change the world is experiencing now, it is just possible, that some very good things have been forgotten, lost, or ignored in relationship to how one perceives, thinks, and feels about the world in which they live. In another commencement address Mrs. Dole pointed out that many of today’s students, (now it involves the majority of those in high school) do not know by personal experience a single thing which happened in the Twentieth Century, and many of them do not have a memory about 9/11, 2001! What they know of two World Wars, the Korean Conflict, the Cold War, Vietnam War, and the Gulf War, for example, which shaped much of the Twentieth Century, is not by personal experience, but by way of a history class and/or the Internet.

Moreover, there are many prophecies in the Bible and in Mormon scriptures as well as by modern prophets which characterize the time we live in as one in which Satan claims this earth as his dominion and as a time of especially great wickedness, ignorance, corruption, war, rebellion, loss of natural affection, degradation, conflict, loss of morality, hate, materialism, political and social strife, spiritual weakness, dishonesty, and hypocrisy, just to mention a few.

For example, in 2011, Thomas S. Monson pointed out, “I've lived long enough to have witnessed much of the metamorphosis of socety's morals. Where once the standards of the Church and the standards of society were mostly compatible, now there is a wide chasm between us, and it’s growing ever wider.”(2) Elder Neil L. Andersen, said in 2015, “As these temptations and distractions increase and as the gospel of Jesus Christ becomes less palatable to the world, sadly we will see more among us who will lose their way.”(3)  "Chasm ... growing ever wider," and the Gospel becoming "less palatable to the world," suggest that the world today's youth are growing up in is significantly different morally than that of just a generation or two ago. It should be pointed out that today's young people have experienced at best, the smallest part of this slippage from spiritual moorings. And in many, perhaps most cases except in highly religious homes, they are unaware of those earlier spiritual moorings altogether.  Something very important has gone by the wayside almost unknown by today's generation.

The loss of many good things, secular and religious, is only one generation away. In 1961 and again in 1967, Ronald Reagan warned that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction.”( 4) A decade later Elder Boyd K. Packer spoke of “these last days when the consummate power of evil moves against us.” Christian churches, he said, should be the bulwark against this tide. Instead, they “provide little substance” for members or clergy, which leads to the “frightening specter of empty churches and a clergy promoting causes they, above all, should resist.” He warned, “We face the frightening thought of a generation raised without any contact with the scriptures.”(5) Two generations later we are witnessing the fulfillment of that warning, and it is overlapping the Church somewhat today too.

Elder Neal A. Maxwell repeatedly called the Church’s attention to the possibility that, though the entire Church would not go into apostasy, many individuals may.(6) He cited Judges 2:10-13 where we are told that on one occasion “all that generation were gathered unto their fathers [had passed on]: and there arose another generation after them, which knew not the Lord, nor yet the works which he had done for Israel” and they forsook the Lord and began to worship other gods. There were two great losses: 1) they knew not the Lord, and 2) they knew not the “works which he had done for Israel”–that is they didn’t know the religious history of their people.

The Book of Mormon contains similar warnings. King Benjamin taught the people that without the Brass Plates of Laban which Nephi and his brethren brought with them to the New World, “we must have suffered in ignorance, even at the present time, not knowing the mysteries of God.” He said that without God’s teachings and commandments “always before our eyes, that even our fathers would have dwindled in unbelief.”(7) The "dwindling principle" is played out in King Benjamin’s posterity. He gave one of the most important sermons in the Book of Mormon, but we are told in Mosiah 26 that “there were many of the rising generation who could not understand Benjamin’s teachings because they were “little children” at the time the sermon was given.They did not believe what he said about the resurrection or the coming of Christ. Mormon concludes: “And now because of their unbelief they could not understand the word of God; and their hearts were hardened.  And they would not be baptized; neither would they join the church. And they were a separate people as to their faith, and remained so ever after....”(8) Individuals and societies can dwindle in unbelief because important things are not preserved and passed on.

Elder Maxwell also cited Alma 37:8 which speaks about the wisdom of God in seeing that the source records for the Book of Mormon were preserved, “for behold, they have enlarged the memory of this people....” Elder Maxwell went on to elaborate:
Used effectively, the scriptures, as was done anciently, can actually enlarge “the memory of this people,” emancipating them, in a sense, from the limitations of their own time. The enlargement includes conveying the experiences of others which the current generation has not had, and in such a way as to permit its members to conceptualize, appreciate, and learn from these experiences.(9)
As Reagan said, these things are not passed on in the bloodstream. Too many young people today do not have any sense of the "limitations of their own time." They are like butterflies in a cocoon and need emancipation but do not know it. A little reflection about the present day shows the wisdom of these men temporally and spiritually. Many aspects of our freedom are under siege and the constant growth of the “nones” group of religious affiliation is only one of many indicators that secularism is relentlessly challenging and replacing Christian teachings and beliefs.

Those who educate and guide the young need this spiritual perspective as well as one borne out of the understanding and wisdom which comes from wide reading in history of all kinds--not just about political events, wars, and the elite--but also the history of science, art, culture, religion, technology, economics and other subjects.  Many biographies contribute to this widening of perspective and deepening of understanding and wisdom.

Interestingly, a day after I read Dole’s talk I came across one from Peggy Noonan that addresses the issue and provides an example with great insight–especially on the value of history and biography. She was talking about young–under 45–journalists and politicians who want to make history, but know nothing of history because all the have they got from the Internet.
They have seen the movie and not read the book. They’ve heard the sound bite but not read the speech. They read the headline on Drudge or the Huffington Post and then jump to another site with more headlines. Their understanding of history, even recent history, is therefore superficial.  Here is the problem:  If those trying to make history have only a shallow sense of history, they will not be able to make anything good. 
They came to maturity in the internet age and have filled much of their brain-space with information that came in the form of pictures and sounds. They learned, that is, through sensation, and not through books, which demand something deeper from your brain. 
Reading books forces you to imagine, question, ponder, reflect, connect one historical moment with another. Reading books provides a deeper understanding of political figures and events, of the world -- of life itself. 
Watching a movie about the Cuban Missile Crisis shows you a drama. Reading histories of it presents you with a dilemma.  The book forces you to imagine the color, sound, tone and tension, the logic of events:  It makes your brain do work. 
But, oddly, it's work the brain wants to do. 
A movie or documentary is received passively: You sit back, see and hear.  Books demand more and reward more. When you read them your knowledge base deepens and expands.  In time that deepening comes to inform your own work, sometimes in ways of which you’re not fully conscious.(10)
Here is one more along these lines that is worth stopping to think about in this context. It is from Helen Mirren's commencement address at Tulane less than a month ago.
My parents' generation were born at the end of one World War, survived a global economic meltdown, and then fought a second World War. And of course, for their heroic efforts they were rewarded by my generation deciding to reject everything they stood for.(11)
Many examples of good things which may be lost as a result of the colloquialism and “presentism” of our personal perspectives could be given. I may do that someday when I can devote the necessary time to think them through.(12) My purpose in writing today is to heighten awareness of this issue and the problems it can create in the minds of teachers and young parents and in the minds of the young themselves. (This has to be the height of folly, doesn’t it, to think a young person–under 18 or perhaps even under 25, will read this? Alas, hope springs eternal.)  
My hope is that parents and teachers armed with this illuminating insight may take some action to help youth more properly adjust their thinking and feeling–much of which is good, even great, but some of which may be deficient because of the absence of some good things which are not present in the present!

Let’s think together again, soon.

Notes

1.  Elizabeth Dole, commencement address at Norwich University, 9 May 2015, available on the internet at: 
 http://oc.norwich.edu/blog/transcript-sen-elizabeth-doles-2015-norwich-commencement-address/
Peggy Noonan describes the process discussed in this paragraph:  "It [reading] will change how your very mind works. And in some magical way the deep thoughts of others give a spark to, and almost give permission to, thoughts of your own that had been lurking about but never had the courage to present themselves..." See footnote 10 for reference.

2.  Thomas S. Monson, "Priesthood Power," Ensign (May 2011): 66.  He began his address to the men of the Church expressing concern about the challenges they are facing. The immediate context of the above quoted passage is:  "We have come to the earth in troubled times.  The moral compass of the masses has gradually shifted to an 'almost anything goes' position."

3. Neil L. Andersen, “A Compensatory Spiritual Power for the Righteous,” devotional address for BYU Campus Education Week, 18 August 2015.  Available online at:
https://speeches.byu.edu/talks/neil-l-andersen_a-compensatory-spiritual-power-for-the-righteous/

4.  Ronald Reagan, address to the annual meeting of the Pheonix Chamber of Commerce, 30 March 1961, you can find videos of this on Youtube; and, address, California Gubernatorial Inauguration speech, 5 January 1967. Online here:
https://reaganlibrary.archives.gov/archives/speeches/govspeech/01051967a.htm.

Reagan's full quotation is: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

5.  Boyd K. Packer, Conference Report, October 1971, 10; on the Church website the talk is titled, “The Only True and Living Church,” emphasis added.  See:
https://www.lds.org/general-conference/1971/10/the-only-true-and-living-church?lang=eng

6.  See: Neal a. Maxwell, “‘God Will Yet Reveal,’” Ensign, (November 1986): 52;“The Children of Christ,” Brigham Young University 1989-1990 Devotional and Fireside Speeches, (Provo, UT: Brigham Young University, 1990), 87; Sermons Not Spoken, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 1-9.

Elder Henry Eyring said an entire generation will not be lost.   Henry B. Eyring, "We Must Raise Our Sights," Address to Religious Educators at a Conference on the Book of Mormon, BYU, 14 August 2001.  It is on the Religious Studies Center website and is published in Henry B. Eyring, “We Must Raise Our Sights,” in The Voice of My Servants: Apostolic Messages on Teaching, Learning, and Scripture, ed. Scott C. Esplin and Richard Neitzel Holzapfel (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center, Brigham Young University; Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 2010), 11-21.  This quotation is on page 1.

7. See Mosiah 1: 3-5. Compare 1 Ne. 3:19-20 showing prophetic perspective in having and preserving records, and Omni 1:17-18 which did not maintain that perspective.

8.  Mosiah 26: 1-4.

9.  Neal A. Maxwell, Sermons Not Spoken, (Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1985), 2, emphasis added.

10. Peggy Noonan, commencement address at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 13 May 2017. Available online at:
http://www.cua.edu/speeches-and-homilies/2017/commencement-2017.html

11.  Helen Mirren, commencement address at Tulane University, 20 May 2017.  Available online at:
https://www2.tulande.edu/grads/speaker/

12.  I’m thinking here of such things as the almost universal notion in liberal universities and colleges which equates tolerance with acceptance, and promoting nearly unquestioningly the values of diversity and individualism without regard to the positive benefits of cooperation and unity. Or, what appears to be to be a near fatal loss of understanding of the values and principles accepted and espoused by the Framers of the Constitution and the devaluing of the Constitution itself. Or, the denigration of the values of traditional marriage between a man and a woman and of traditional family life. Or, the nearly total abandonment of accompanying emphasis on chastity among the sexes and fidelity in marriage.

8 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post. This reminds me of what President Reagan said (in the context of freedom--but this applies to your message):

    “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and our children's children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.”

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    1. Thanks for this quotation. If you have it, send along the reference. I would like to combine it with a similar statement by Elder Packer (I believe), about the gospel--it only takes one generation to lose it.

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  2. Just noticed I wasn't looking at the updated post. Great additions.

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  3. Sorry, I don't know the exact reference. It is quite I've seen quite regularly, though. I love the additions to this post. I've been thinking very heavily about the importance of the scriptures as of late...and how I desire to share them with my children and their children.

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    1. No problem,I found the reference and a Youtube replay, plus another similar quote. The references are attached to the article.

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  4. Good. I saw your references...after my comment. Oops!

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  5. "The question is, have we as Church members had the inspiration and wisdom to see the emphasis on these things in this context? If not, has that led many to be indifferent and even lazy in following the counsel of the brethren? It doesn’t really do us any good for the Lord to provide the help we often feel we need in the face of Satan’s onslaught if we don’t recognize it or take advantage of it." As always, this remains the challenge. Thank you President, this was a great article. It provided great insight, and for me it provided a great reminder to redouble my efforts in improving spiritual connectedness.

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