November 11, 2011

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Except for death and taxes, change is constant

Cynthia DewesAnyone over a certain age understands the metamorphosis which has occurred in today’s date—Nov. 11.

What began following World War I as “Armistice Day” is now called “Veterans Day.” This is a better choice since we all remember some war or other and those who fought in it—no matter how old we are. Armistice is just temporary. Sad but true.

When they established Armistice Day on this date, it commemorated the end of The War to End All Wars at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.

People like symbolism. But symbolic or not, the day lost its significance after World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnamese War followed. True, but even sadder.

The moral of this story is that things change over time—things like perceptions, definitions and even notions of what is important.

Think of gender roles, for example. Sixty years ago, teen magazines—which were themselves a new genre for a newly-defined generation—advised girls to act dumb and be cute in order to snag a boyfriend and, later, a husband.

The idea was that boys liked to be dominant and smarter than their girlfriends so girls had to play games and manipulate the boys to get what they wanted from a relationship. This often led to unfortunate marriages, divorces and bad examples for their children.

Today, the popular notion is that women are the dominators and men are the second-class citizens in the relationship between the sexes, with marriage not necessarily a consideration. Wrong again, but that is a topic for another time.

What we used to believe was patriotism has also changed in some minds. The patriotism which meant pride in American ideals was sometimes eroded by forgetting that the ideal always contains concern for The Other. The ideal of personal freedom included the constitutional rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—as in the right to life, not the right to take an unborn baby’s life; the right to liberty, not license to do whatever we please; and the pursuit of happiness, not the guarantee of it.

Our society used to value education, which meant acquiring a body of knowledge and the ability to think critically as well as to learn useful skills. The object was to lead a more satisfying life and to contribute to the good of all.

We still say we value education, but that seems to mean earning a degree or certification with the least amount of effort in order to gain the most amount of money, the biggest house and the flashiest lifestyle.

Religion, or at least the practice of it, has changed as well. Widespread churchgoing and other religious observances used to involve real faith in God or, sometimes, just lip service due to social pressure. While true faith was the more ideal motive, respect for institutional religion was at least present.

Now we value “spirituality,” a rather vague idea which may or may not include believing in a power greater than ourselves.

Of course, there are both advantages and disadvantages to these changes. It’s good that women are recognized as men’s equals, but bad when it harms families. It’s good that people want to improve themselves, but bad when the object is merely material gain. And it’s good when people revere God, but bad when their reverence is hypocrisy.

On this Veterans Day, maybe we should remember the importance of free will in such changes.

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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