My daughter told the group that the common good is to be found not in the discovery of new principles for living, but in the rediscovery of God-given truths about the importance of faith, life and family.
Editor’s Note: Last week my daughter, Moriah Mosher, who is 18 years old, traveled to Rhodes, Greece, where she addressed the Rhodes Youth Forum on the subject of “Traditional Family Values.” The Forum is an annual meeting of young people from all over the world who are devoted to the search for the common good. My daughter told the group that the common good is to be found not in the discovery of new principles for living, but in the rediscovery of God-given truths about the importance of faith, life and family. She is right, of course.
Steven W. Mosher
Good afternoon, everyone! I want to thank the organizers of this Forum for giving us this opportunity to meet here and discuss the future. I think it is important and I’m very excited to be here.
My topic today is traditional family values. Now I must admit I had a little problem in writing this talk. Values are, as we say in the United States, “caught rather than taught.” So it’s hard to put some of these values into words. But I’ll do my best!
If you have watched a Hollywood movie lately, as I’m sure most of you have, you probably think that Americans don’t have any “traditional family values.” You may think that in America commitment means going on a second date. You may think that every couple in the U.S. lives together. You may think that those few who do get married, quickly get divorced. You may think that most American children are born into broken homes. You may think that most young people are too busy demonstrating against Wall Street to worry about getting an education, or a job.
These may be scenes out of a Hollywood movie, but this is not America. This is not the America that I, and tens of millions of people like me, know. In this other America — the one you don’t hear much about — parents do teach their children traditional family values. Just like my parents taught me.
So what was it like growing up in a traditional American family? What family values did my parents try to instill in me? Let me give you a little of my personal history.
All of us begin as a thought of God, and I am grateful to God, for thinking to send me to my family, a family in which my father and mother were totally committed to each other in a lifelong, loving relationship. There was never any question about this in my mind, never any thought that my parents would separate, never any talk of divorce. It was, and is, a “till death do us part” kind of relationship.
So I was born into what has been called a “natural family” with a father and a mother and their children. And I have “caught” a great appreciation of the institution of marriage. I want this family value for myself and for my children.
Because my parents were open to Life, I instinctively understand the sanctity of life, the need to guard and protect the weakest among us — the unborn, infants, children and the elderly — from the dangers of abortion, abuse, and euthanasia.
In our early years my sibling and I were home-schooled. I know this may sound exotic to some of you, but in the U.S. it is quite common. According to the Home School Defense Association, several million children are home-schooled and over ten million more attend private, Christian, or Catholic schools. In the U.S., the state does not have a monopoly on educating the young. Parents are the first and best educators of their children, and outside of the home, many choose alternatives to public school.
Every traditional family is a school of love and life and virtue. Growing up, my parents insisted that we keep a regular daily schedule: Wake up and go to school, earn good grades at school, come home and do chores, complete our homework, join the family at dinner, and help clean up after dinner, and only then relax and enjoy free time. It is from such good practices that good habits are formed, and from such good habits that good character is formed.
Take our work ethic, for example. Because my mom and dad wanted to live in the country, my parents bought a small farm in northern Virginia, a farm we still live on today. Growing up there was always work to be done — grass to be mowed, cows to be fed, fences to be mended, trash to be taken out, and so on. Now I may have complained about these chores when I was younger — in fact, I am sure that I did — but I have come to be grateful. From them I have learned a work ethic that will help me to be successful in whatever I attempt in life.
Traditional family values require respect for others, especially for one’s elders who are the living repositories of such values. I was taught to respect not just my parents and grandparents, but respect all of my elders. Of course, I did my share of “talking back” or arguing with my parents.
Obeying my parent’s teachings not to lie, cheat, steal or hurt others generally became easier as I grew older, but honoring my parents by obeying them became harder. When I was a kid I didn’t like to back down; I was headstrong, and very opinionated. Then, when I entered adolescence, I started watching too many T.V. shows. Teenagers in these shows were always rebellious, disrespectful, and rude to their parents, and so I was tempted to do the same, and use the media to justify my actions. But, over time, I learned to show more respect and eventually it came more naturally.
Forgiveness was another key value that my parents taught my siblings and me. With eight children in the same household, we occasionally got into fights. I was usually at the center of these conflicts. During such conflicts my parents would step in, reprimand us for fighting, and tell us to apologize to each other: “I was wrong. I am sorry. Please forgive me,” was the standard formulation.
When I refused to apologize, as I often did in the heat of battle, I would be sent to my room to calm down. “Come out only when you are ready to apologize,” my dad would say. I can remember standing defiantly in front of my dad with my arms across my chest and my jaw clenched tight, I must have been about ten.
My parents struggled every day with my stubbornness. My dad seemed to have endless amounts of patience. Eventually, however, I got it. The light bulb came on. I began apologizing to my siblings and accepting their apologies without the intervention of my parents. I learned how to control my temper, and how to avoid fighting all together, from my most important teachers, my father and mother, in the school of traditional family values.
I had much less trouble with other traditional values, such as the need to always tell the truth and to respect the property of others. I was told never to lie and never to steal. I rarely did, since the truth of these values seemed to me to be self-evident. It seems as clear to me today as it did when I was younger that stealing and lying are simply wrong. I believe that these and other traditional values are written on the human heart. They were certainly inscribed on my heart.
There were other traditional family values that my parents taught me. From my mother I learned love, empathy, and kindness towards others. From my father I have learned humility, selflessness, and self-control.
In closing, I would say a word to those of you who did not grow up in a traditional family. Perhaps you had to learn the importance of traditional family values the hard way, by trial and error. Perhaps you learned the importance of marriage only because your parents divorced. Or perhaps you learned the preciousness of human life because someone close to you passed away or had an abortion. Perhaps, in this era of failing marriages and falling birth rates, you didn’t have a father, or a mother, or brothers and sisters.
At the same time, you understand that such values are fundamental to the good life, and must be integral parts of our character, however we came by them. I believe that this is so because there are some values, chiefly those that are laid down in the Ten Commandments, which are also written on the human heart.
If you’re feeling left out, remember this: Every person has multiple opportunities to be part of a traditional family. There is the family you were born into, the family that you form upon marriage, and the families that your children form when they marry.
So even if you weren’t born into a traditional family, you still have the chance to form one in the future and to pass along these traditional values. I hope that you will get that chance. I was blessed by being born into a traditional family open to life. I would love for you to experience the blessings of belonging to such a family as well, and the traditional values that such families embody.
No matter how you come by traditional family values, it’s important to pass them along to others — to friends, to family members, and to your future children. Those of us who practice these values and pass them on to others are arming future generations with the God-given tools necessary to building a better future.