Originally I intended for this article to be an Obituary for actor Ralph Waite, who played the patriarch of the Walton family on the television series The Walton’s. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the show, The Walton’s told the story of a large rural family, the eponymous Walton’s, who lived together in their Virginia home of Walton Mountain during the Great Depression. From 1972 to 1981 Waite guided his children through some of the difficult and awkward situations of childhood and adulthood, dispensing no nonsense advice and love. The Walton’s may not have been a perfect family, but the honest portrayal of each actor made the show have a real and earnest quality that is seen so scarcely in television. This was due in part to Waite who played John Walton with such honesty. If you were fortunate enough to have someone in your family who was like him, he reminded you of them. If you couldn’t think of anyone like him, he was someone you wished you had known. I myself have only been watching the show in the few reruns I have caught in the past couple of years, but even from so few viewings, I can proudly mean the words I have said. Ralph Waite made John Walton a real person, and that’s as much a compliment you can bestow on any actor.
However, his loss got me to thinking of all the lessons he had taught his children throughout the show. He was a different kind of parent than most of us are used to. He loved his children, and he fought with them and he fought beside them. However, he seldom fought for them. He taught his children the values of hard work, self reliance, instilled in them the virtues of honesty and fairness, and helped them grow into good natured people. His passing made me realize that there are few John Walton’s in the world, and it is currently showing in our culture.
Now I know it’s unrealistic to expect the world to reflect television. I know it’s even more unrealistic to expect wholesome family values from generations past to still be relevant and important today in our completely different world, but then again, shouldn’t they?
How hard is it to be kind to other people? How hard is it to be honest? How hard is it to work hard for what you want instead of expecting it to be given to you? How hard is it to think before you speak? How hard is it to control your anger and your impulses? How hard is it to do good things for the other people in our world without getting anything in return? How hard is it to do any of those things? The answer that seems to be prevalent in our current society is that being a generally decent person is too hard.
Tonight I saw a post on Facebook from a friend who said “Went into a restaurant at 10:45 and they said they were closed. The sign says you close at 11:00, not 10:45…. Wish it wasn’t so hard for some people to do their jobs!” After a few seconds of thinking, I quickly removed this person from my friend list. Why is it so hard for some people to do their jobs? Why is it so hard to be a courteous human being? I worry that our society, and my generation in particular, has been reduced to a group of people so focused on their own well being that they have no consideration for others? Sure, you’re hungry and they could make you that food, but couldn’t you go somewhere else that is open later so that people aren’t staying after their shifts are over just to take care of you? Thinking the world revolves around you: that’s vanity.
So many people are like this, focused only on their self, not thinking anything of anyone else. Rolling over anyone who disagrees with them like a steam roller. We have become a nation of arguers, being someone who has to be right. While it is fine to want the best for yourself, there comes a time when you have to think of others as well, even if that means not getting what you want. Some people will argue that it isn’t fair that they don’t get what they want when they want it, and to them I say the same thing I was told by a pastor at a young age: “Life isn’t fair.”
Many people will rush to blame technology for all of our problems, and I don’t see that as the root cause; a facilitator definitely, but not the source of all evil. Yes, our focus on technology permeates our “me “culture: we are focused on our cell phones, our televisions, our laptops, our videogames, our social media presence, our looks, and our idevices. I HAVE to have the new thing before anyone else. I HAVE to comment on someone’s status that I don’t agree with and then start a fight with them over it so that they know that their opinion is wrong. I HAVE to, I HAVE to, I MUST, I MUST… everyone spends so much time thinking about their own desires that nobody takes the time to think I SHOULD.
I SHOULD treat everybody fairly, with kindness and respect, because they are people just like me.
I SHOULD focus more on how I can impact the world, and not how the world can impact me.
I SHOULD be a better person, and work to make myself better if I am not.
I SHOULD make time for the people that matter to me instead of waiting for them make time for me.
I SHOULD always thirst for knowledge and seek it out, but also thank those who can provide it to me.
I SHOULD let everyone who is important in my life know it, and remind them they are loved constantly.
These are just a few ideas that John Walton would have agreed with. They are also just a few thoughts that take only minutes out of your day, but can add years to your life. However, so little of our society cares to think this way anymore, and it shows. The Walton’s don’t live here anymore, and it’s hard to believe they ever did.
I see glimmers of hope that I’m not the only one who feels this way. This week, campus celebrated Random Acts of Kindness week. And it’s a great start, but I ask this: why just ONE week? Why can’t we devote more time to being good to those around us? Why can’t we do something nice for someone every single day of our lives?
The answer: Because it’s too hard.
Our society does not reward kindness, it rewards ruthlessness and brutality. It rewards the villain, the man who does the wrong thing to get ahead. It rewards money, it rewards possessions, it rewards success. Yet we paradoxally celebrate failure, and try to make everyone as equal as we can. The first place winners are looked upon with disdain as we celebrate those with a participant trophy, yet at the same time the opposite exists. How can we have this duality in our culture? How can it be both good and bad to win? Both wrong and right to succeed? Both wonderful and awful to fail?
Nathaniel Hawthorne once said that “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself, and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be true.” The same goes to our culture. We are one on hand clinging to the morals and foundations that the Walton family believed in: fairness, equality, honesty, hard work, charity, love, and kindness. On the other hand, we embody the hedonistic tendencies of the gods of Greek mythology: greed, excess, success, lust, and power. It makes me wonder, which face is the true on in America?
If Walton Mountain were a real place, if you could go there and visit, it would be a run down, beaten, and hollow version of its former self. The Walton homestead at the center would be a dilapidated building, falling apart at the hinges. They did their best to keep their way of life alive, but in the end, they lost out and moved away somewhere new, somewhere they could hopefully thrive. Ralph Waite may have just died this week, but when it comes to our country, a sadder truth becomes a grim realization: The Walton’s don’t live here anymore, and it seems like they haven’t for a long time.