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When I was a child, I memorized an axiom written in the 1800s by Joseph Smith. This statement became the golden thread that wove the tapestry of my philosophy regarding literature and media.
It became and is still the basis of my choices. Every book I read, every song I listen to, and every movie I watch is weighed against the premise:
We believe in being honest, true, chaste, benevolent, virtuous, and in doing good to all men; indeed, we may say that we follow the admonition of Paul – We believe all things, we hope all things, we have endured many things, and hope to be able to endure all things. If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.
In our modern world, it is difficult to find people who are truly honest, true, chaste, benevolent and virtuous. Many people even view the words and ideals as archaic and outdated. Some do not even know the meaning.
Honesty has become an elastic line of “if I don’t get caught, I’m honest.” Virtue is something to be squandered and joked about. Truth is subject to “winds of opinion” and chastity is something out of medieval times.
Benevolence has been dropped from modern vocabularies with the advent of the “me society.” How is a child to find his/her bearing in such confusion? Heroes who exemplify the morals of my axiom are a luxury of the past.
Our modern heroes come from Hollywood, Washington, music videos and the cartoon world. If you are channel browsing or Internet surfing, role models and heroes of modern society dance to the forefront. They are women in perfect 10 bodies richly clad with as little clothing as possible and glittering with face paint and nail polish.
The men are in million-dollar suits and sports uniforms. They parade through commercials telling our children that youth, beauty and appearance are infinitely more important than moral values. In fact, many of them thumb their noses at old-fashioned morality.
I often wonder how the next generation will get along when their hair turns gray and the facelifts do not work anymore. I wonder about the day when they realize that physical appearance is only the wrapping. The true gift is within. The character of a human being is all that really matters.
When I was growing up, the integrity of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln was the stuff heroes were made of. I remember the story of the cherry tree and Abraham Lincoln walking miles to return a book. I saw portraits of Washington on his knees praying.
I memorized the Gettysburg Address and understood what dedicating a cemetery really meant. I had seen churches and schools dedicated to the work of the Lord. I knew that Lincoln valued liberty and unity more than life.
There was no question in my mind that he was a benevolent and honest man. The Founding Fathers were my heroes.
Today we have men in the political world who parade as heroes and boast of their honesty, but turn coat with the winds of opinion. I am amazed how, even knowing they are being recorded, they can say something one day and two days later deny they made the comment.
It is not uncommon for a political figure to be flaunted on television as an unfaithful husband and father. Their children become celebrities overnight. It is normal for a sports figure to be recognized for their immoral language and behavior. It seems that the more lewd and immoral a prominent figure becomes, the more free media time they get.
In my time, truth was unchangeable. It was like the rising and the setting of the sun. It was like the evaporation cycle. Education was based in solid fact, not theory. Theories got the same rating as any other opinion.
Students were tested on what they had learned, not what they were expected to know. Progress was based on individual achievement and not a comparison to other students in schools around the country. There were winners and losers. Not everyone got the same prize for playing the game.
Feelings got hurt, and people learned to deal with the pain. Sometimes the truth hurts, but to hide the truth is more painful in the end. Bullies got black eyes, and teachers used the paddle. If you tried to circumvent the system, you did it at your own peril.
Laws were meant to be obeyed, not debated. If a person was caught committing a crime, the law didn’t ask, “Why?” The law did not ask, “Are you insane?” The law simply said, “There is a law with a punishment affixed. If you break the law, you will receive the punishment.”
Truths, back then, were considered “self-evident.” In other words, truth was obvious. God and nature were in charge of the consequences. The consequences did not have to happen immediately. Sometimes they were a long time in coming, but over time, they would come.
Truth has not changed, even if our society puts a different frame around its window. We cannot change the laws of God and expect them to go away. God’s laws are as eternal as the laws of nature. No one can put blinders on and say the sun does not exist. A man cannot jump off a cliff to thumb his nose at the law of gravity. The consequences are written in the book of eternity.
Polonius in Shakespeare’s play “Hamlet,” said, “ ... to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” It is easy to form your opinions based on the popular opinions of others, but there comes a time when you must decide what you stand for.
You must embrace your own values and stand alone, if need be. Great self-esteem comes when you stand for what you believe in, but your self-esteem is greater when you stand for what is right, even if you stand alone. Abraham Lincoln was that kind of hero. The following story is told of him:
Abe Lincoln made the great speech of his famous senatorial campaign at Springfield, Illinois. The convention before which he spoke consisted of 1,000 delegates together with the crowd that had gathered with them.
His speech was carefully prepared. Every sentence was guarded and emphatic. It has since become famous as “The Divided House” speech. Before entering the hall where it was to be delivered, he stepped into the office of his law partner, Mr. Herndon, and, locking the door so that their interview might be private, took his manuscript from his pocket and read one of the opening sentences: “I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.”
Mr. Herndon remarked that the sentiment was true but suggested that it might not be good policy to utter it at that time.
Mr. Lincoln replied with great firmness: “No matter about the policy. It is true, and the nation is entitled to it. The proposition has been true for 6,000 years, and I will deliver it as it is written.”
Lincoln was a man with great self-esteem, but more than that, thousands loved and honored him. His influence lives on. Some without integrity have tried hanging onto his coat tails, but they will never reach his stature because what made him great was his dedication to true principles and his willingness to align himself to those principles, no matter what political hurricanes were blowing.
Over the years, I have tried to align myself with truth. I am interested in true principles because I know that truth is the only place a person can find true happiness. The world spins lies at every turn. It is hard to untangle and sort them out to see them for what they are.
Advertisements, political jargon and media tell us what we should do and how we should live, but often they lead us to sorrow and regret. There is one sure way to know. Base your life on the teachings of Jesus Christ and look for things that are virtuous, lovely, or of good report and praiseworthy. When you have found them, embrace them and you will find truth is not far away. PD