Paraphrasing the words of Charles Dickens, we can say:
It is the best of times
It is the worst of times
It is the age of wisdom
It is the age of foolishness
Dickens was writing of England and France during the period before and during the French Revolution. The book was “Tale of Two Cities.” You should read it.
It is the “best of times.” Compared to almost all of human history we find ourselves embarrassingly rich in worldly goods and in ease of labor. We have central heating and air-conditioning, running water, plentiful food, transportation and health care. We have television, computers and cell phones — gas is relatively cheap.
It is the “worst of times.” Politics are in turmoil. Various interest groups are struggling for recognition and power. Evil is all around us. We must have security services against computer hackers, identity thieves and others. Terrorism haunts us. Violence abounds. We no longer feel safe in our churches, our schools, our entertainment venues, our streets, or even in our homes.
It is the “age of wisdom.” Scientific progress and health care continue to improve at breakneck speed. We have a permanent space station. Satellites circulate the earth providing communication, entertainment and navigation.
It is the “age of foolishness.” Despite our almost universal ownership of cell phones, we talk face to face less than ever before. Think of the number of movies and television shows that literally have no redeeming value whatsoever.
Thomas Jefferson in 1776 began the Declaration of Independence with these words:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…”
The Convention in Philadelphia in 1787 wrote our Constitution. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known collectively as “the Bill of Rights” were ratified effective December 15, 1791. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution guarantee the freedoms we so often take for granted.
How are we to participate in these freedoms?
Be responsible. Pay your taxes. Obey the law. Love your family. Get an education. Get a job. Do not destroy things not your own.
Be honest. Tell the truth. After a while lies are hard to keep track of and you will be found out. Play fair, by the rules. Do not “game” the system.
Be inquisitive. Never stop learning. Go to school. Read good books. Be skeptical. The internet and social media are usually not the best source of information. Learn about the biases, real and potential, of your sources of information. This takes some work on your part.
Be reliable. When you give your word, or agree to something, make sure that you follow through. Get a job, show up on time, ready to go to work.
Be generous. Share with others. Find someone that needs your help, or some cause that you can benefit. Share the bounty of God’s creation and man’s ingenuity. Give of yourself. Be a blood donor. Teach Sunday School. Coach Little League.
Be Passionate. Do not become a “couch potato.” Do something interesting, or creative and useful. Be passionate about your job, your education, your hobbies, your church, your family. Both you and those around you will be immensely enriched by your passion.
When I was a child the world had just emerged from depression and was at war. In the period surrounding this tragedy my parents and grandparents were expected to live within one’s means, work hard, save and invest wisely, borrow money only for a home and not covet what their neighbor had (see the Tenth Commandment). This was not only good economic advice, but it was a reflection of one’s moral character. Neighbors and religious institutions, not the government, were expected to help the truly needy.
This does not mean you must be perfect. Perfection is truly impossible this side of the Second Coming. Until then — be yourself, be kind, be considerate. Enjoy the many things we have in this great nation of ours. We are a great nation because many people in the past and today have given the extra effort, even their lives, to make it a better nation for their posterity.