The character of a nation and its core values determine whether or not a nation will survive. Be it the fall of the Roman Empire, the fall of the Third Reich, or most other empires, the root causes usually point to some "decay", "self-indulgences" or other failures of character traits that are frequently rooted in Western Civilization.
A core value is your philosophy about your way of life. A core value is intrinsically who you are. The core value is your character, your leadership, and your upbringing frame of reference. In Western Civilization those traits, directly or indirectly, relate back to Judeo-Christian principles.
In the United States Marine Corps, for example, we teach leadership principles and leadership traits. Loyalty, justice, take responsibility, dependability, and courage are to name just a few. These principles and traits guide us in our dealings with fellow service members and the civilian leadership that we work for.
A society’s character are the principles or the structures under which the society functions and serve as the boundaries of acceptable behavior within a society. These boundaries can change over time. If the change is well thought out, the society will flourish. If the change is poorly thought out, the unintended consequence may, in fact, be the failure of the society.
Many Americans today are confused about our national character. What we stand for is not as clear as it once was for many. A prime example of the confusion and a source of much of the perceived problem of deterioration of our core values is the institutionalization of the concept of being "the victim".
In the past few decades, our government has, through legislation and executive order, imposed of victim mentality in our culture. This victimization philosophy undermines the core value of our citizens of "taking responsibility for your actions".
In one public service announcement (PSA) the commercial implores you to ensure that impaired friends not drive. This PSA, while a laudable trait for the unimpaired person, fails in two very demonstrable ways to strengthen the national character debate.
First, the PSA rightfully reinforces the importance of the core value of helping your neighbor. It wrongly suggests, however, that you were at fault for not stopping the person from the excess of drinking or using drugs in the first place.
Second, the PSA fails to use the opportunity to reinforce the core value of taking responsibility for your own actions to the person who was excessively drinking or doing drugs.
A much more effective PSA which would have reinforced a positive national core value is to emphasize to the person who is drinking or taking drugs what they are doing to their friends.
In the United States, our nation has proclaimed its Judeo-Christian heritage in our Declaration of Independence.
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness"
Our laws and our frame of reference have been based upon such principles.
This does not imply that our nation is governed by religious leaders but that such Judeo-Christian principles serve as the framework for our national character, what we, as a nation, stand for.
Times have changed. Core values are perhaps not as clear. Separation of church and state has, in effect, given way to laws rather than character or principles becoming our core values. But to be clear, laws are not core values.
The core value is central to who you are. It is central to who the nation is. It is a voluntarily accepted societal norm coming from within the individual. A core value is personal.
A law is not always a core value. A law generally is a minimally accepted standard within a society. Laws generally have some basis in core values but the law is not the desired standard for a normally functioning society.
A law is intended to be followed. A core value is intended to be lived.
Central to any national character is for a person to accept personal accountability for their actions. Victimization is the exact opposite of taking responsibility.
This perspective of victimization plays out throughout our entire society today. We have become a culture in which we are not responsible for our behaviors.
During the mortgage crisis, those who made risky loans got bailed out by the Federal Reserve and the Department of the Treasury. By the same token those who took out subprime loans got bailed out from having made a poor decision to buy a home they could not afford.
At the same time, those people who did not engage in such behavior have the privilege of paying for the actions of others.
Students who borrowed excessively for college are now asking for federal bailout of the student loan indebtedness. At the same time, professors and administrators of universities who benefited from higher pay due to the higher tuition and easy borrowing, are demanding that their benefits not be reduced because they would be "victimized". Once again those who did nothing wrong will have the opportunity to pay for other people’s excesses.
People who come to the United States illegally are being portrayed as victims when in fact they cross the border illegally.
When a society encourages a victimization mentality, not only do you undermine the core values of the nation but you make it extremely difficult for those people who are consistently asked to bail out those less responsible.
The significance of this debate is quite simple. If you undermine a nation’s core values, you undermine the nation.
Compassion is a core value.
Taking responsibility for your actions is a core value.
These two core values taken together and reinforcing one another benefit society greatly and set the stage for long-term survival the nation.
One core value without the other is a recipe for disaster.
Col. Frank Ryan, CPA, USMCR (Ret) and served in Iraq and briefly in Afghanistan and specializes in corporate restructuring and lectures on ethics for the state CPA societies. He has served on numerous boards of publicly traded and non-profit organizations. He can be reached at [email protected] and twitter at @fryan1951.