Movies from the first half of the 20th century instill an awe for bygone norms — people walking the streets smartly dressed and neatly groomed, greeting others cordially, and exhibiting instinctive social and moral decency. Elders and authorities were honored, children (even as adults) respectful when questioned or corrected — even if unjustly. Okay, so they’re movies, but newsreels from that era show much of the same.
What a radical difference a century makes.
Decorum has taken a nosedive, and the repercussions are toxic. “As the family goes, so goes the nation, and so goes the whole world,” Pope St. John Paul II said in 1986.
At a holiday party about 10 years ago, a guest asked her collegiate daughter a question about school, encouraging her to tell the others how her studies were progressing. Whoops, sinkhole. The girl took a wild turn, slewing vulgarity and curses at her mother for not keeping enough money in the kid’s bank account. Now the “young lady” had the full party’s attention. The mother — not known for reticence — fell silent, feigning normalcy. Then she promised to deposit money the next day. The girl stormed out, slamming the door.
It was like a scene from The Bad Seed. Only worse.
Decorum, ‘close cousin’ to modesty, is an integral virtue for life, and has to be instilled early in the family. Without it, kids will emerge ‘undressed’ for what life inevitably unveils … sparking embarrassing and obscene tirades, early failure, depression, rebellion, depravity, and other destructive act-outs.
In the most difficult moments, a person’s true essence becomes apparent. It’s hard to be temperate, rational, and self-regulated in midst of uncertainty, disappointment, or rejection. But it’s possible with innate discipline and spiritual muscle. It’s what Christ meant when He said “Learn from me for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mat 11:29)— that He could calmly withstand battering humiliation that might defeat even the most stalwart, but He would endure it with grace and fortitude, honoring His Father’s will. We see something similar in certain business situations — when successful executives remain cheerful and circumspect amid staff, investor or media hostility, exposition of personal crises, or publicized downturns. It sets a standard for subordinates.
But parents tolerating open interrogation from their kids, along with vulgarity and profanity, set themselves and their kids up for problems. Some senior professionals — including close friends — who wouldn’t stomach disrespect from their staffs, swallow it from their kids. “I gave my son everything,” one confided. “After he graduated, I gave him a job at my firm. He arrives late, complains, and makes excuses. I took him to lunch to discuss it, and instead he rebuked me in areas where he thinks I fall short as his father.”
If our children are our legacy, investing in their character and propriety will outrank their future stature or wealth. He who disciplines his son will profit by him … and will make his enemies envious. …The father may die, and yet he is not dead, for he has left behind one like himself (Sir 30: 2-4).
CHRISTINE VALENTINE-OWSIK is Legatus magazine’s Editor.