John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D.
Bryn Mawr, PA
May 17, 2006
In the area of Character Development, my father's view regarding Character is that Character is "caught." Specifically, from his experience in growing up in a strongly religious and morally based community in middle Tennessee, he never recalled anyone, at home or in school, ever teaching about values or about what was right and wrong. In spite of this, he developed, as did most others in that community, a strong sense of values simply by seeing integrity, reliability and honesty lived out in people's daily interactions with each other.
My own view is that, in the turbulent times that we live in now, a major culture shift has occurred in the last 50 years in which the educational establishment has advanced the prevailing view that there are no moral absolutes and that everything is relative. Even more to the point is that, when the culture increasingly denies the existence of rights and wrongs, then the very effort to understand the strengths and weaknesses of one culture compared to another may lead to claims of bigotry and bias.
As a consequence of proclaiming that all things are relative and that there are no absolute rights and wrongs, and that all that counts is power and getting ahead of others, surveys now show that 87% of public school high school seniors acknowledge that they have cheated one or more times during their high school education. Of even greater significance, is that these same surveys show that the high school students do not see anything wrong with cheating. Since the culture trumpets that the only goal of life is personal advancement no matter what it takes one can readily understand why cheating is so prevalent. As another example of attitudes about rights and wrong, students who take classes in World Cultures are quite comfortable in announcing that human sacrifice by the Aztecs was quite acceptable because "who are we to judge some other civilization by our own value system?" In our contemporary context, there are some today that would advocate that outlawing female genital mutilation would simply be cultural imperialism.
One of the areas, which my colleagues and I at the John Templeton Foundation are increasingly interested in, is the relationship of beliefs and worldview to the choices that one makes in life. These choices in turn have a direct bearing on outcome for the individual person and, if practiced widely, for society as a whole. In many cases, one's worldview and belief system can often have predictable results. We cannot, for example, ever pass enough laws or mountains of regulations to prevent future Enron scandals if we do not go back to what people believe in their hearts and how those beliefs shape one's worldview and the choices they make.
If one assays the single most commonly espoused "value" in our culture today, that value is "tolerance." The concept of "tolerance" demands incessantly that one abandons all judgment and that one acknowledges that, to be a discerning person, is to be a prejudiced person. No matter at what level one approaches issue after issue, we need to ask, "Should we tolerate the prevailing culture of dishonesty and cheating? Should we tolerate the greed-driven agendas to foster the growth of gambling at the expense of a declining emphasis on hard work and savings? Should we tolerate a public educational system with its entrenched self-interest which virtually every inner-city parent knows is destroying any hope or possibility of their children achieving meaningful opportunity in a 21st Century economy?"
In one of the most critical issues of our time, should a worldview based on relativism be allowed to blunt our moral outrage and our willingness to defend ourselves in the face of a totalitarian ideology that has no compunction about the murder of innocent civilians?
Sir John Templeton, Louis Rukeyser and Jack.
Wall Street Week TV program 27 Nov 1992.
As noted, the John Templeton Foundation has as its focus discovery through research in vitally important, but neglected, areas. This includes research regarding the enhancement of freedom, and discovery of more about spiritual realities such as love, forgiveness, gratitude, loyalty and generosity. The motto selected by my father for the Foundation is "How little we know, how eager to learn."
As a part of this discovery process, the Foundation is exploring, through research, the critical connection between beliefs and worldviews and both personal and societal culture. But the greater issue is to understand the very significant impact that culture has on the actions or choices that people make. Finally, we need to understand, at every level of life, what the impact is of actions and choices or outcomes personal outcomes and societal outcomes.
The book that I wrote last year, on which my short paper is based, is entitled Thrift and Generosity: The Joy of Giving. I wrote this book because I hoped that, not only was the virtue of "thrift" and the virtue of "generosity" each important in its own right, but I felt that each of these two virtues are powerfully interconnected. First, if our nation's culture does not return to a belief in and the practice of thrift, as was so frequently expounded by Benjamin Franklin, the savings rate of Americans which is now minus 0.5% will decline further to a point in which personal bankruptcies are common and our nation is beset by financial turmoil.
Since I can first remember as a youngster, I have always felt a deep sense of gratitude. Initially, it was perhaps easiest to be grateful for natural blessings in one's life such as loving parents, shelter and food. But, growing up as I did during World War II and the turbulent world changes after World War II, I became increasingly grateful for things that are not "natural" and are, in fact, not common to human experience. More specifically, as I came to understand the precious gift of freedom and how fragile freedom is, I became increasingly grateful to be a citizen of a country whose genesis derived from the single most common word that our Founding Fathers, from the Revolutionary War leaders to Abraham Lincoln, used again and again. That word was "Providence."
I came to understand at a young age that America was a completely unique country in all of history one not built on a common ethnicity but on the vision that there were two components to the "pursuit of happiness" emphasized by Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson and his contemporary fellow leaders were extremely well schooled in the sweep of human history with its many tragedies and occasional triumphs. They felt that a cultural, political, economic and legal system fostering both individual rights and maximizing opportunity would be more transforming and more beneficial than any other system in the world.
At the same time, Jefferson and his contemporaries, as well as Abraham Lincoln, clearly understood the fragility of what they knew was, at best, an experiment in representative republican government. Each one of them knew and wrote about and spoke about, extensively, the irreplaceable inner compass of personal responsibility that had to lie within the heart of every single citizen.
They all recognized and agreed and concurred with John Adams' analysis regarding the only secure foundation for personal responsibility in citizens in a free republic. In an address by President John Adams to the military dated October 11, 1798, he said: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest chords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
If Americans do not recover a strong sense of gratitude for those who died and sacrificed so much to give us our freedoms and our extraordinary opportunities, then we shall also begin to lose our extraordinary heritage of generosity. The direct coupling of gratitude to generosity has, as de Tocqueville saw so clearly, been one of the most unique features of America's culture of self-help and personal responsibility. Presently, individual Americans give four times more to meeting the needs of people in other countries from their own personal resources than the U.S. Government does. If we lose our culture of gratitude, we will then lose our tradition of personal generosity in favor of state-initiated assistance, which is the prevailing norm in the rest of the world.
If we find a way to restore, in our culture, core character virtues like thrift and generosity plus a re-commitment to honesty and personal responsibility, we will preserve much of that inner compass which will allow us to pass the fragile gift of freedom and self-government to the next generation.
In summary, for each person and for citizens in a democratic society, it is vital that we be both thoughtful and active in applying the lessons that we learn about the critical role of culture: What lies at the foundation of personal and societal culture? Because we still have the power to make beneficial decisions, is our culture contributing to wise choices? And, lastly, in the actions that derive from our choices, what are the results of the choices we make and are these outcomes ones we wish to pass on to future generations? If we are successful in learning from the answers to these questions, then we may feel that our lives have truly had a positive impact.
Jack's Personal Goals - Page 1
Jack's other feature for May: The Joy of Giving
(Jack's email address is email@example.com.)