Those We Reward
Jerry D. Kaifetz, Ph.D.
In order to successfully undertake the task of understanding a culture, it is important to examine which individuals within that culture receive the greatest rewards. Most often, we will see the emergence of an unmistakable pattern: those that a society rewards will always have traits in common.
In early colonial days, it is evident from history that the recipients of society’s favor and respect were those who contributed the assets that our fledgling culture then needed the most: essential elements of survival such as food, clothing, shelter and defense.
We have chosen to place on the highest rungs of society’s ladder of accomplishment those who have excelled at acting like children. We have bestowed the greatest honors not on the expression of character and virtue, but on the execution of children’s games.
As America emerged as a nation and a people, we began to understand the underlying relationship between the ability to provide the essential elements of a free and prospering culture and the personal elements of character, morality, and religion. Thus, we placed a significant value on education, church, and ethics, all of which were part and parcel of one another and the fabric from which our national character was woven.
America has now gone from the trial of birth, through the process of adolescence and maturity, and has now arrived at the place of decadence and complacency. We have come to the era where the moral values vital to our founding, independence and survival have become in the minds of so many of us an antiquated concept that clutters the portal through which we seek to “progress” from freedom to license.
The casual and objective observer in America today needs only to ask us which of our citizens receive the greatest reward—not those who merely prosper in their labors, but those upon whom we lavish our praise, respect and even adoration. Who are these people? Are they those who educate our children? Are they those who mend our ailing bodies? Are they those who preach to us the character-building truths of the Judaeo-Christian tradition? Hardly!
The people whom our society rewards the most are those who excel in two specific fields. The first of these vocations is athletics: throwing a ball through a hoop, running with a ball and knocking over others, hitting a ball into a hole with a club, hitting a ball over a fence with a stick.
The second group is actors and actresses—those who excel at pretending to be someone they are not in the process of dramatizing a story or making us laugh!
What is most interesting to me is what the occupations of our culture’s heroes all have in common: they are the childhood games of children! We have chosen to place on the highest rungs of society’s ladder of accomplishment those who have excelled at acting like children. We have bestowed the greatest honors not on the expression of character and virtue, but on the execution of children’s games. In so doing, we have divorced character from success in the minds of several generations; success in our culture is based on the values of children, not the time-tested ethics that have been responsible for the rise of great civilizations.
We see every week supposedly legitimate news organizations legitimizing the value of talented men and women within our culture by equating their acting ability, musical or athletic talent with the kind of success that has for 6,000 years been associated with character. We are constantly fed the underlying assumptions of these fawning journalists that because someone has an aesthetically pleasing arrangement of facial features and the ability to “play-act,” that their opinion on the environment, national defense and the economy suddenly becomes of value. We assume as well that because someone displays physical prowess on a field of play (notice the word we use here) that their endorsement of an automobile should be a factor in a major buying decision on our part.
Sorry . . . . . if you excel at a child’s game, or if you can act, there are thankfully still in our culture those who have remained unawed. While they can still enjoy the performance of a talented athlete, an actor or music virtuoso, their contribution will never rise to the level of those who teach their children, those who keep them healthy, those who patrol our streets, our borders, our skies and our seas, those who rescue the endangered, and those who minister to our souls and spirits.