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.
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, 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. 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.(2)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.(3)
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 2 for reference.
2. Peggy Noonan, commencement address at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C., 13 May 2017. Available online at:
3. Helen Mirren, commencement address at Tulane University, 20 May 2017. Available online at:
4. 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.