Editor's note: The original version of this column was published in April 2002.
As one who came kicking and screaming into the middle of the war-baby generation, and the eldest of a career military officer, I was raised mostly on one Army base after another.
I was guided at the same time by the graceful touch of a loving mother who never met a stranger. Over the years, I slowly developed and became comfortable with my own beliefs, which were probably a blend of each parent's.
This seems pretty much how we each form our views about the world--according to the prevailing structures that continually shape and condition our individual beliefs from birth. We all come into this world with expectations and parameters set by parents, churches, government and its laws, mores and peers.
The parents who set the course of my early existence are gone. Yet, measured against this backdrop, I've thankfully grown to the point of creating my own structure of expectations. Like other baby boomers, I see events unfolding in society that prompt my concern, not so much out of personal need but for the future of our democratic republic.
For instance, here are expectations forged on my anvil over decades:
I expect each American to be responsible for his or her own actions. Nowadays we're always looking for scapegoats for our mistakes and misbehavior. What's worse, we live in an insanely litigious society that actually promotes forgoing accountability and reason in favor of promoting legal commerce.
While I appreciate that immigrants launched and built this free nation into what it's become and, while I encourage all who seek freedom and personal responsibility in their lives to seek our freedoms, I also expect any potential citizen to learn our predominant language: English. I can't tell you how irksome it is to have to respond to an ATM asking which language I prefer, or to try to read directions in another nation's chosen language.
I also expect everyone to wait his or her turn. If I've stood in line for an hour to acquire what I want, then I also, by God, have earned the right to that position. The same is true for anyone else. Mutual respect and human decency are key elements to success in any democratic republic. Hey, it's why the Golden Rule is considered golden, right?
I expect an impartial and objective adherence to truth to be at the crux of resolving issues and questions that arise in America. We wade increasingly deeper into the muck when our people make decisions on one group's political advantage, who argues best, or by following those who tell us what we want to hear. I'm talking about the flagrant euphemisms the media helps promote by calling lies spin and misspeak.
I expect people to acknowledge when they are wrong and move to make amends if their mistake has damaged another. This includes overzealous prosecutors, fallen clergy and certainly the media.
I expect those who call themselves U.S. citizens to compete freely in an economy that best rewards those who work the hardest and smartest and most efficiently. Anything short of following this principle in commerce is corrupting to the essence of a free-market economy while promoting oft-failed socialism.
I expect every citizen to be able to freely choose where, when and how he will worship without having his neighbor pronouncing flawed judgments and issuing uninformed condemnations. It's troubling when individual churches (with agendas for wider control) grow so wealthy and influential that they are able, through sheer numbers, to dictate the politics within communities with numerous faiths and viewpoints.
I expect those who seek and hold public office to place the legitimate needs of citizens and communities above personal petty advantage, political power-mongering and egos inflated to full-blown, porky arrogance. Any public servant should genuinely care about the people they represent and serve, never expecting to be treated as privileged in any way. Voters elect them to become their tax-supported public servants rather than royalty.
I expect to invest my daily affections and energies in a country that values every citizen, regardless of the size of that person's bank account or some shallow, eternally irrelevant social standing. If the heart of any nation lies in the compassion it displays for its oldest, youngest and its most disadvantaged, I fear that our misplaced priorities in recent decades have damaged that vital organ.
Finally, I expect our nation, just like its citizens, to live within its legitimate means rather than becoming overwhelmingly indebted to other interests and nations.
Hopefully, this provides clearer insight into the origins of opinions I regularly share. Perhaps it can be helpful in forming your own ideas on where one columnist is coming from.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected].