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"Yes, Jeffrey May Have a Patriarchal Blessing"
Response to "Classes for Heroes
The Appearance of Evil
The Farm Boy and the Angel (Poem)
Rediscovering Old Manners
|Issue 12 / May 1996||Hatrack River Publications|
--- Brigham Young
The birth of our severely handicapped son, Jeffrey, caught us completely by surprise, and our initial reaction was shock. We had wanted one more child, and we had been promised in a beautiful priesthood blessing that a "special child" would be born to us. I had even been blessed that medical personnel would perform their functions properly, and so I felt unusually safe and protected. But the nightmare of events which followed Jeffrey's birth seemed to mock the comforting promises of that blessing.
Our son was born with the umbilical cord wrapped tightly around his neck three times, and he had swallowed a toxic substance called meconium. He required immediate resuscitation. But we later learned that the damage from the lack of oxygen at birth was negligible compared to the congenital brain malformations which he was eventually discovered to have. Jeff's birth was followed by three harrowing months in the intensive and extended care nurseries, during which a number of extremely intrusive but lifesaving medical procedures proved necessary. Even after he was finally discharged, we had to endure many more heartbreaks during difficult months and years in which new diagnoses emerged.
Following Jeffrey's discharge from the hospital, we began taking him to various community agencies for diagnosis and treatment. Since the medical procedures in the nursery had been so intrusive, we found that Jeffrey was terrified to be taken outside, frightened of strollers, fearful of infant carriers, and that he cried through nearly all of his prescribed "infant stimulation" classes. I can remember sitting in those classes and watching the mothers with Downs Syndrome children, and envying them for all that their children could do. As the years went by, and his list of diagnoses grew longer, we slowly began to realize just how very impaired Jeffrey was.
Jeffrey was diagnosed with Moebius Syndrome, an impairment of the sixth and seventh cranial nerves which caused facial paralysis (including inability to smile or change facial expression), visual problems requiring two surgeries, and hearing impairment. When Jeffrey was two years old, we were informed that he was probably severely retarded, and that the program for deaf children he was in was of little benefit to him. He was later diagnosed with cerebral palsy, and as a result has never been able to crawl or walk. He also suffered from gastroesophageal reflux (inability to keep food in the stomach from coming back up). This required another surgery.
But easily the most heartbreaking and difficult handicap of all was discovered when he was about eight years old. Jeffrey does indeed have hearing. At least three tests by expert children's audiologists had demonstrated that. But because of his congenital brain damage, he is not able to process sound, so that no sound he hears is meaningful to him. After a consultation with our audiologist and the observations of many years, we sadly removed his little blue hearing aids, which he had been pulling out for some time anyway.
Since then, my husband and I have spoken many times of our sadness over that last diagnosed handicap. Bob grieves because Jeff will never experience and understand the sounds of a living forest or enjoy any of the world's great music. And having been a teacher of written communication, I find it almost unbearable that our son must go through life with no language in which to think or to express his thoughts to others. I still wonder what it must be like to think without having any mental language to do so.
But the passage of time, as it so often does, has brought knowledge and increased understanding. In the retrospective light of thirteen years, that beautiful priesthood blessing given before Jeffrey was even conceived has proven true. He is a very special child.
For example, we have found many things which Jeffrey enjoys. He loves to eat, loves to go swimming or take baths, loves to be hugged and held and massaged, and loves activities in which he can take turns with someone else: stacking and knocking over blocks, "give-me-five" hand games, and signing for more food or other basic needs. Jeff loves it when the brakes are taken off his one-wheel-drive wheelchair and he can move around on his own. He also loves rolling on the floor, pulling himself up to standing, going to the park, and sitting or lying on a blanket with someone else, using them for a pillow or a prop.
One day I met a mother in the Sunday training chapel who told me that a young handicapped child in her ward had been given a patriarchal blessing. I also knew of a thirty-year-old high functioning Downs Syndrome adult who had received one. I questioned whether a blessing for Jeffrey would be appropriate, but I immediately felt a hope I had not known in years. The possibilities associated with our son receiving a blessing were overwhelming to think about. Surely a patriarchal blessing would aid our limited understanding of why he came to earth so impaired.
The birth of a handicapped child raises what I call "cosmic" questions: Why does a loving Father in Heaven allow so many misfortunes in the world, particularly those that are visited upon the newborn and innocent? I thought it would be wonderful to have some understanding of the whys about Jeffrey. Maybe a blessing would help us and others who know Jeffrey to understand some eternal principles more clearly. And wouldn't it offer our family comfort and sustenance as we learned about our Father in Heaven's plan for Jeffrey?
I knew I could not rest until I had at least asked. As a gospel doctrine teacher, I had been strongly impressed by the fact that most revelations in The Doctrine and Covenants were given because the prophet had asked the Lord for them. With the phrase "Ask and ye shall receive" running through my mind, I requested a meeting with my bishop. As we discussed the matter, we both wondered whether it would be appropriate to give a patriarchal blessing to someone who would not be able to understand it in this life. After all, blessings are given to benefit individuals specifically, not their families and friends. My bishop suggested a meeting with our stake president. He shared our concerns, but agreed to inquire for us.
Within a surprisingly short time the answer came back: "Yes, go ahead with it. Jeffrey may have a patriarchal blessing!"
Although children like our son are not routinely given patriarchal blessings, we had asked the Lord for one, and he had not turned us away empty handed.
"Ask and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you . . ." (Matthew 7:7).
We immediately contacted our patriarch who had blessed other family members, and he said enthusiastically, "I have no problem with this at all. Bring him to our home."
Our whole family accompanied Jeffrey for his blessing. As we were all seated around a table, our patriarch explained how important these blessings are, confirming that they are a part of our permanent church record and are kept in the archives with the records by which we will be judged. He concluded his introduction by saying, "I think it's just wonderful that Jeffrey will also have a blessing in the archives."
Then, even though Jeffrey did not hold his head still for even one minute. Brother Wallace began a marvelous, inspired blessing which provided a wealth of information about Jeffrey's identity and his condition on earth. We listened with awe, although not surprise, as we learned about Jeffrey's associates in the pre-existence and his great and well-known missionary efforts there for our Savior. We marveled at those to whom he was well-known in the unseen world, both then and now.
Neither we nor many of the people who know Jeffrey were much surprised by this information, for from time to time we had seen glimpses of courage and the greatness of his spirit. Before we had learned how to communicate with him, he had managed to devise a number of ways to communicate with us through gestures, head movements, sounds, eye contact, motions, and rolling from place to place to let us know what he wanted and needed. That had always seemed like a miraculous and enormous accomplishment.
Because it would not violate his privacy, and because we felt his blessing sheds much light on eternal justice and the perspective of all earthly sorrows and miseries, we have shared Jeffrey's blessing with a number of people who feel close to him. For example, Jeff was allowed to attend the eighteen-month- to three-year-old Sunday Primary nursery, even as a twelve-year-old. Over the years we have shared his blessing with his nursery leaders and teachers so that they would know who he is and how important he is. We shared it with my husband's cousin who as a patriarch had requested to read it. We shared it with my dear aunt who had grieved over Jeffrey's condition for years. She read it in tears.
Among other things, we have learned from his blessing that Jeff's only earthly task is to receive a body. While it is our task to prove ourselves to our loving Father, we know that our son, like many born on earth with severe handicaps, has already proven himself. We have the wonderful promise that in the next life, he will have the privilege of a temple sealing to a worthy companion for eternity, and of raising a family. We have also learned from his blessing that Jeffrey's accomplishments in this life will be known throughout the Church and by many people throughout the world. Jeffrey's recent move to a residential wheel chair facility in Santa Barbara and his introduction to a new school district that is particularly friendly to handi-capped persons, begins to give us glimpses of that future. And as we wait for our thirteen-year-old son's life to unfold, we now do so with hope and knowledge that eventually he will realize the great eternal blessings promised to all the righteous.
-- A Reader in California
I enjoyed the article "Classes for Heroes" in Issue 10, September 1995, of Vigor. It gave an added dimension to one of my favorite subjects. I have devoted time in sacrament meeting and in Sunday school class on just this topic of heroes. Heroes for today are very important, just as they have always been. I asked my Sunday school class of twelve- and thirteen-year-olds one time who their heroes were. I was surprised by their answers. "My older brother." "My Dad." "My school teacher." Surely these children had greater insight than what I had given them credit for. I expected answers of all the media personalities of actors, singers and athletes. In a talk I gave in sacrament meeting, I spoke on the subject of heroes and tried to answer the following questions: What makes a person a hero? Why do we have them? Do we need them? What is their importance? Who are our heroes and where do we find them? How do we choose them? What do "heroes" have to do with the gospel of Jesus Christ?
A simple, perhaps worldly explanation of hero is a person acclaimed for unusual deeds. A dictionary definition: any person admired for his/her qualities or achievements and regarded as an ideal or model.
Heroes help develop our character. They teach us. Teachers are not necessarily heroes, but heroes are teachers. They teach us to be better than what we are in whatever large or small way they can teach us.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with a coworker. I told her that I enjoyed the television show MacGyver. She responded with an unfavorable opinion of her own saying, "He does these things that are so far-fetched. No one would think of them. It's just so unrealistic." My response of course, he does things that no one else can do! That's what makes him a hero. Heroes do things that no one else does. If they were just like anyone else they wouldn't be heroes. And we learn from them.
Heroes have been important enough through the ages that the writers of the scriptures filled them with stories of real heroes. Those books are fraught with people worthy of our admiration which all heroes should be. They are examples we study and try to follow. I try to emphasize this concept in my Sunday school class. I want those children to be able to realize that in spite of the sometimes stilted language that we get mired in at times, the scriptures are filled with heroic characters that are much more meaningful than any romance/adventure novel we'll ever read. Why? Because the heroes in the scriptures were real people living in real circumstances and making real choices. By choosing their example to emulate we can take comfort in that we're not just trying to emulate a fictional character.
We have other heroes: historical and national. We have present-day heroes of the world, and we have our own personal heroes. In the USA and increasingly in the world at large, the heroes of the world today are those who attain fame, fortune, or beauty in whatever way they can. I see this as a very sad and very insidious degradation of hero worship or admiration, because it degrades us. We are children of God, yet we give acclaim to people who show no goodness and do not uplift us in any way. They teach us, yes, but they do not teach us to be better than ourselves, which is what a hero should do. I am tired of the wrong people today being acclaimed and held up as examples to us when there is nothing or very little exemplary about them. And all sorts of people gain tributes just by the act of getting people to listen to them.
"Indeed, there is a widespread fallacy that being on television is the national merit award system and that whether one gets there through cajoling, talent or crime makes little difference." (Judith Martin, aka Miss Manners)
I love adventure and romance stories and movies: Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and even less "swash-buckling" stories of The Little Princess, Heidi, David Copperfield. They are all books filled with heroes and heroines who face tremendous odds, make difficult decisions and triumph over adversity. But even more important are the stories of Nephi, Omni, Jacob, Mormon, Moroni, Abraham, Noah, Daniel, Ruth. The history of the world is good versus evil, triumph over tragedy, honor over disgrace, love over hate. These themes permeate every social and cultural event of everyone's life. It is life. It is no wonder that the scriptures and our literature reflect that.
Instead of reading about Sir Galahad and how I wish that I could lead an exciting life like that filled with honor and dignity, I imagine that my life now is a great novel being written and I am the author of it. No, taking out the garbage, cleaning up the mess my cat just made, or running to the grocery store is not very heroic, not very exciting. But it helps me to do better, to make wiser choices when I take the larger perspective of living that grander plot of triumph over adversity to the final chapter. This gives meaning to my life and helps me to endure the apparent meaningless parts of it. It also helps me to endure the very meaningful parts of my life. When I am faced with a difficult situation, I remember others who have faced similar difficult situations and how they reacted. Shall my novel read, "She cowered before her accusers, uncertain of what to do?" Or shall it read, "She faced her accusers like Abinadi, with strength and honor?" Words are wonderful. They have the power to speak for us when we are no longer present. I want my story to be filled with words that show triumph over tragedy, faith during adversity, just like all those heroes I read about.
Heroes can be made anywhere at any time. We must live our lives so that when the time comes, when we finish cleaning up that meaning-less mess and go on to some meaningful part of our life, we will be prepared to be a hero, whether that heroic element comes in the form of being a parent, a spouse, a visiting teacher, helping someone move, or sacrificing our own time and wants to see that someone else's needs are met. We may not always recognize an heroic deed or situation as heroic, but we can fairly well guess what will be consequences of decisions we make. Will my decisions show fortitude, faith, a concern for others, a Christ-like life? Will I be doing what the Savior wants? If yes, then our heroic deeds that we think so small add up to an heroic life.
I am in agreement with your article. We tell the youth that they are warriors of Saturday. By showing them how to be warriors, their lives become meaningful, their testimonies strengthened and their future children have a worthy hero.
-- A Reader in Indiana
When I was six years old, I found a cigar that was still wrapped, and fresh, in its original wrapper. I thought it was a valuable curious find, and knowing neither my family nor I would have need of it, I decided to give it to my older non-LDS neighborhood buddies. I figured they would be interested in having it, because their parents smoked, and I had even seen my young friends smoke once or twice before. The thought never occurred to me to destroy the cigar, because I knew it was of value to certain people, and I had been taught never to waste anything.
I had been right, my friends were interested in the cigar, and they decided to smoke it themselves and encouraged me to come with them. Curious to watch them smoke the cigar I decided to go along.
The place they chose to smoke the cigar was just like the places stereotypically portrayed in books and movies for doing such clandestine activities; it was behind a shed in the back of their house, which, by the way, happened to be around the corner from my house.
Once we got behind the shed, my friends decided that I should smoke the cigar with them. And, when I refused they even used some of the familiar peer pressure cliches to try to get me to do so: "everybody does it" and "nobody will know." But I knew they were wrong on both accounts. As I said before, my family did not smoke, so I knew not "everybody" did it, and I knew if anybody would know about it would be my mother.
You see, my mother somehow had the uncanny ability to see through buildings, walls, and around corners So, I knew she could see us from around the corner, behind the house, and through the shed. I do not know where my mother got this ability, but I know she had it, because every time I did something wrong, no matter where I was, she knew about it as if she had witnessed it herself. She was probably already watching us right then.
Besides, I really did not want to smoke the cigar, because at some time in my young life I had made a promise to myself, the Lord, and my parents never to do so. And besides, they smelled bad.
So, when I again told my friends that I would not smoke with them they, being a few years older and bigger than me, threatened to beat me up if I did not. I then got a little nervous, and was not sure what to do. I tried reasoning with them by telling them that I and my family did not smoke for religious reasons and that I would get into trouble if I did, but they would not listen to me and held onto me so I could not run away. They were determined to have me smoke with them.
Somehow it figured that this would happen; what should I do now? I did not want to get beat up and I did not want to smoke the cigar either.
I pleaded with my friends some more and was able to barter them down to only having to take one puff of the cigar before they would set me free. That was not too bad, but it would still be considered smoking. I had to somehow get out of this situation without having to take even a single puff.
My friends were becoming impatient, so I had to think of something fast. I was actually hoping my mom was watching me and would come to my rescue, but she did not. I knew her x-ray vision only became activated when I would be actually engaged in the act of doing some-thing wrong. I would have to get out of this on my own.
Then, suddenly, an ingenious plan came to me, but to make it work I needed to be sure of one thing. I needed to know, when smoking, whether you had to inhale on the cigar or exhale. I was pretty sure it was inhale, but having never done it I did not know for sure. So, I asked my friends and they told me I had to inhale. This is what I had hoped and what would make my plan possible, because I knew I could fake inhaling by sucking my cheeks in while actually blowing out on the cigar. Hope-fully it would fool my friends into thinking I had actually taken a puff, and I would be out of the situation without having done anything wrong.
With this plan in mind I took the cigar in hand, sucked in my cheeks, and blew out on the cigar. I then quickly handed the cigar back to my friends and took off running to the sound of their triumphal laughter. But, I did not care. My plan had worked. My friends were com-pletely fooled. And I knew I had done nothing wrong, because my mother never even knew about it.
Yet now, as I think back on that situation, I realize I did do something wrong. Besides letting myself get into a compromising situation, I gave off the appearance of evil by fooling my friends into thinking I had actually taken a puff of that cigar. I know I never actually sinned, and am grateful I was inspired with the ruse I used to get out of that situation, but what did my friends think? They would always think that I had smoked that's what. Even though I have never taken a puff in my life, those boyhood friends would think I had.
I am sure they have forgotten all about this incident and me, but it still makes me wonder about the situations we may glibly get ourselves into in life and the appearance of evil we give to others.
As a case in point, years later when I was in junior high school, I was confronted with a somewhat similar situation. It happened in the lunch line at the school cafeteria. I was the only member of the Church in the school at this time, and was telling a friend that I had never even taken a puff in my life, let alone actually smoked. But, when another friend behind us overheard this, he loudly scoffed in disbelief. And as evidence against me he mentioned all of the school friends he had seen me hang around with who smoked. This accusation upset me so much that I remember almost losing control of my temper with this person.
It was true, though. I did hang around some pretty rough and uncouth characters in school who were, again, friends from my neighborhood. They all had long hair, smoked and drank, and got into trouble a lot. They were friends from my childhood, and we had some good times growing up together. I had no control of the decisions they made, and at that time mainly associated with them in school and not at home. My family and I had actually gotten several of them out to scouting and church activities. One of them even earned his Eagle Scout award in our church troop.
Yet, this pricked my teenage conscious, and after looking at the friends I was hanging around I then looked at myself. What image did my appearance give off? I dressed like my school friends, had longer hair like they did, and did not shave the little amount of facial hair I could grow at the time that often. It never occurred to me until then that my outer appearance and those I consorted with could lead others to think I was anything but a righteous person. Except for my appearance, I was not like my friends at all. I had never smoked, drunk, had immoral relations, sworn, or skipped school. I even had decent grades in school, yet I looked like those who stereotypically did not.
No wonder that this school friend automatically assumed I was no different than those I hung around with. Sure he was in error for judging me, but I think I was in error for giving that appearance of evil.
We know the Lord does not look upon the outer appearance of man, but on the heart, and for this I am grateful. And, as members of the true church, we are counseled to remain in the world and not of it, yet we also need to let others know that we have the true gospel in our lives and that it makes a difference. One way to do that is by our appearance.
Does our testimony of the gospel radiate from our beings? Do we look like disciples of Christ? Do we look approachable and have a warm and caring appearance and demeanor or is there nothing noticeably different between us and our neighbor? Can others look at us and notice something different and special about us by our appearance, attitude, or countenance? They should. We have the true and everlasting gospel in our lives and hearts. Are we hiding our candle under a bushel? I hope not.
That we all bear our testimony of the gospel and the truth in our outward appearance and actions as well as in our hearts and words is my prayer.
-- David Ullery
Beneath the birch trees in a grove,
alone, a young man knelt in prayer.
Needing an answer from the Lord,
young Joseph brought his question there.
His small town near Palmyra had
three churches; each said it was true.
At fourteen, Joseph was confused,
but God could clear it up, he knew.
He prayed to ask which church to join
which one was true, which one was right,
when all at once he felt attacked
by darkness that was black as night.
An awful presence weighed him down,
bound his tongue, and left him weak.
His prayers were silenced in mid-breath;
young Joseph could not even speak.
"Help me, Lord," he finally gasped,
and called to God with all his might.
The darkness left, and in its place
he saw above a shining light.
From up above two figures came.
As they grew closer, Joseph saw
both God the Father and the Son,
approach him, as he knelt in awe.
"Which church is right?" he asked the Lord.
The answer was, to his surprise,
"Join none of them; they are all wrong.
Their lips speak faith; their heart denies."
God said that later He would tell
the farmer boy what he must do.
For now, he was to join no church.
This was his answer, Joseph knew.
Some three years later, in his room,
an angel visited the youth
to tell him of the golden plates
with Gospel's everlasting truth.
Moroni was the angel's name,
a prophet from the days of old.
His story was among the ones
engraved upon the plates of gold.
The angel led him to the Hill
Cumorah, where beneath a stone
lay the plates of gold, but warned him
not to take them for his own.
The angel came to see him there
for four more years on that same date,
until at last it came the time
to translate the golden plates.
Through Joseph's work, the plates became
the Book of Mormon, telling of
this continent's inhabitants
and Jesus Christ's unbounded love.
"When you have finished with God's work,"
the angel said upon the hill,
'then will all nations speak your name;
some for good, and some for ill."
And so it was, as ever since
the 1820 boy's first search,
the world would speak of Joseph Smith
as founder of the Mormon Church.
A modern prophet, Joseph Smith
restored the Gospel to the land,
a testament of Jesus Christ
for all the world to understand.
-- David L. Harten
We were so smart, we Americans, we westerners. Back in the sixties, we were inventing the future. No more of those silly old manners. Imagine opening doors for women. Can't they open doors for themselves? And why should the man always pay? It kept women in the position of dependency.
Worst of all were those silly old rules about supervision. A chaperone! Proof once again that women were chattel, treated like valued property instead of being free to follow their own desires wherever they might lead.
So ... we got rid of all those old male chauvinist rules, those sexist social conventions. And what was the result? It took awhile, but people began to notice some problems. Most men have self-control, but a significant number don't. Without witnesses, feeling perhaps enticed, men who would never stalk a woman to rape her, nevertheless refused to believe that having been invited, unchaperoned, into a young woman's abode, they then had carte blanche.
We all agree that such behavior was reprehensible but men do not come with labels. We can't possibly identify in advance which men will behave this way. And once they do start acting on their certainty that "no" means "now," how can we stop them, since no one else is present with this "liberated" couple?
Here's a fundamental rule of civil society that we ignored and now relearn, at great cost: Without witnesses, barbarians rule. Or, in longer form, those who are brutal can only be kept in check by the presence, symbolic or actual, of the force of the larger society to contain them.
The right to privacy? We give up most of it when we decide to live in the company of others. But when we choose to go it alone, we give up all our privacy. There is no circumstance where any significant number of people can live in peace without the watchful, judging eyes of others. For in the dark, where no one sees, there are monsters, and when you find yourself under the claw of the beast, where is your privacy, your liberty, then?
In the sixties we decried the busybodies who thought they had a right to tell us what to do. Small minds, we called them (and still hear many calling them). But those watchful, judging, small-minded people were the ones who said, "Nice girls won't go out with that young man. He has a reputation." They were the ones who insisted that a chaperone go along even though both the young man and the young woman said, "As if! We're not going to do anything!"
In the world run by those small minds, the people who lived by the rules were protected by them, and those who were tempted to stray from the rules into the dangerous territory where the predators held sway were contained, for the most part, by social pressure, scandal, gossip and the fear of gossip. Oh, how we hated them! But now we realize that gossip is such a gentle weapon, yet more effective than any threat from our criminal justice system. A man who has a woman alone and means to have his way with her is not deterred by the remote possibility of arrest and conviction (besides which, to convict a rapist of rape is to convict him of being, in the eyes of such creatures, "manly"; he does not tremble). But if the woman had been deterred by fear of scandal from being alone with such a man in the first place, how would he have power over her?
Where people live in each other's pockets, minding each other's business, the anonymous crimes are far, far harder to commit. When everybody on the street watches each other's children and knows who has business on that block, how does the pedophile find his victims? In the old days, more of them than now, at least, were forced to sit in their houses and brood their evil broodings instead of acting on them in the safety of the liberated, unwatched street.
It should be obvious to everyone by now that the great experiments of the 1960s and 1970s have turned into the nightmares of the 1980s and 1990s. (And, lest anyone misunderstand, I don't regard the ending of legal racial discrimination as an experiment, but rather as the ending of a long-running crime.) In the centuries and millennia of human societies before us, there was actually a huge fund of wisdom stored up as customs, and when we, misunderstanding how dangerous the world would be without those wise customs, cast them aside in the name of liberty, we found we had not made progress at all, but rather had regressed to a primitive state where lust rules over reason, force over respect.
Honor is the virtue of virtues: You have honor when those who live around you regard you as a civilizing force in their lives.
Decency is the virtue of necessity: You are decent when you show the bare minimum of respect for the customs of the community, at least.
We should aspire to honor; we must practice decency and teach it and enforce it within our families.
But America scoffed at decency and mocked honor. Men and women ceased to keep their word to each other, and marriages collapsed. Every failed marriage weakened every other family, for our children grew up knowing so many children of divorce that even their honorable parents could not instill utter confidence in them. Marriages can break: My parents can divorce: Nothing is certain.
Young women, liberated, became pregnant and, liberated again, had to choose between losing their freedom in caring for an infant long before they were ready, or losing their decency right to the core and killing it for their own convenience. The old rules and customs would have spared them from that "freedom."
Young men, newly free, found themselves rudderless in a turbulent sea, unguided and goalless. The surprise is, not that so many lost their way and became, to one degree or another, slaves to their bodies or, worse, predators on the bodies of others, but rather that so few did.
For civilization is tough and resilient, and a core of decent, honorable people remains. But for how long? There is a threshold of collapse where all faith in the civitas is gone. That collapse has already come in the culture of poverty in the projects of our major cities, where in their "wisdom" the social planners of a generation ago grouped all the poor and forbade any leavening influence from people with higher aspirations: as soon as you earn "too much," you have to leave the projects. When desperate people are grouped together with all hopeful, hardworking families excluded, why are we surprised when civilization disappears and the rule of the brute prevails? We made these jungles and congratulated ourselves as we did so about how much we were "helping" the poor. As a result, we get to see our future: Where our whole society will be when that last core of honor and decency is driven out like Lot from the city.
What can we do? Mormon society is so far, not immune, but afflicted with a lighter case of the American disease. Why? Partly our strong, unwavering commitment to the commandments. Partly because we live in each other's pockets: Almost every Mormon family lives in a village of busybodies, minding each other's business, watching over each other's children, reaffirming each other's values, refusing to let violations of decency pass unremarked. Those who fancy themselves "wise" by the standards of a collapsing civilization consider this our weakness: we aren't "progressive," we are "intolerant" and "repressive." But where the Mormon ward is working well (and in too many places it is not), we keep each other civilized. We sacrifice most of our privacy, and in return keep more of it than anyone can have where the barbarians rule.
In the collapsing American civilization, the much-vaunted privacy and liberty belong to an ever-smaller class of insulated, isolated souls; and their walls, too, will come down, for the barbarians have an eye for all the strongholds, and the American elite are a feeble lot and will collapse in terror at the first sign of the awful danger that is already the main fact of life for those who have been ghettoed outside the walls of decency.
They make inroads among us. The sneers of the elite make us ashamed. We hardly dare to speak in defense of the customs that hold civilization together, lest we be called bad names by the lofty insulated purveyors of the culture of collapse. But enough of us do speak that perhaps at the broad, public level we might have some success. We may yet save the constitution not the document, but the actual constitution of the American civilization.
But to do this we must also hold civilization together within our little villages and in our families. We must reinstitute among ourselves the customs that keep our children safe. Our daughters may resent what they see as a restriction on their liberties, but we must be watchful and not allow them to be in circumstances where the predators can tear apart their lives we know the dangers they don't see.
And we must teach our sons.
After all this doom-and-gloom, am I going to come down to this? That we must teach our sons "good manners"? Indeed I am. Because, given rules, most young men will obey them; and when we see a young man defying the rules that are more trivial, we may be alerted that he probably also will defy the rules that are more vital. The young man who is discourteous will not be given a chance to get a young woman alone. Will this protect all women? Of course not; some of the predators learn to disguise themselves. But we improve the odds. And we create a climate of moral rectitude in which decency is the norm and indecency a matter for scandal instead of a commonplace. When young men are ashamed to boast of their sexual exploits, fewer of them will have sexual exploits, and therefore fewer young women will suffer the consequences.
In my own small way I made a stab at this, in a lesson on dating manners for the young men I teach. The brochure I gave them is attached to this issue. We went through table manners, place settings, how to deal with waiters and others expecting to be tipped. But along with the outward, seemingly trivial matters, several key principals emerged, which are, I believe, at the core of civilized behavior:
1. You are responsible for the safety of the young woman who puts herself in your hands. This means her physical safety, so you never take her to dangerous places; never drive in any way but carefully and lawfully; never expose her to even the temptation of harmful drugs that might, if she succumbed, destroy her life. She must be safe from you her virtue, even if she has surrendered it to others, is not yours to take even if she offers it. And her reputation must also be safe. You speak no ill of the young woman you have dated, neither bragging about sexual "achievements" nor even criticizing her behavior. When anyone asks about your date, the answer is always the same: We had a wonderful time. Even if, in fact, you were bored or disgusted. You do her no harm.
2. You are responsible for her comfort. This means providing her with everything she needs. If a young woman hints that sometime soon she might need a restroom, you must act immediately to get her to one. You say or do nothing to hint that you might not be enjoying her company. You say nothing that makes her uneasy or uncomfortable which means your language and stories are clean and above reproach. And if she makes a mistake or does something embarrassing, you show no sign of amusement or annoyance; you handle it with grace, make her comfortable at once, and refrain from mentioning it again to her or anyone. Anything less shows contempt for her; and if you have contempt for her, why are you taking her out? Her physical and emotional comfort are more important than anything except her safety.
3. Only in third place do you have any responsibility for her entertainment, and while you have some obligation to let your date include some activity that she might enjoy, the primary source of her entertainment, and yours, is the good company you are in. This includes yourself and, if you are wise, your friends who also follow these same rules. That's why you double date or date in groups: You not only are safer and more comfortable, but also have more chances to entertain each other without slipping into activities that, while they drive away boredom, can have fearful consequences.
Of course, in my lesson I didn't use exactly this language. I told anecdotes about my own faux pas in dating, and also about times I was glad I had followed these rules. The bishop was present and joined in with stories of his own. The young men were soon laughing and teaching each other. But the lesson made an impression. I know, because I heard afterward from almost all the parents. "What did you teach?" they said. "My son couldn't stop talking about it."
They want these rules. They want someone to chart a path through the jungle. They want a civilized life. And, small as a few lessons on manners might seem, this is precisely how civilization is maintained. They will not learn these things from the world. They can only learn them from their families and their fellow villagers in a Mormon ward.
-- Orson Scott Card
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