In the fifties, there was general respect for family, hard work, and values basic to civilized society—and for the common good. In those ways, we conformed. Societal changes were under way, however, involving extremism and polarization. In the middle of this, some of us crossed the line regarding die-hard attitudes about race and sex. Totally unaware that we were opening Pandora's box and touching off a cultural firestorm, we became prodigals in the minds of some. A prodigal? Me? Naaaaah....
One Sunday, I flew with Mr. Gibbs in his Navion to Houma, Louisiana, where fishing was said to be excellent, as he wanted to experience it before booking a fishing trip near Lake Boudreaux for some of his cotton buddies. The word "Cajun" was new to me, but lobster bisque was tasty and I found out that jambalaya can strip your throat. One oyster Rockefeller capped my first bayou lagniappe. What a way to break the steak, mashed potatoes, green beans, and cornbread habit!
The following Sunday, Mr. Gibbs said that it'd be okay to come over, as his wife and daughter were at a tea. Reading from a book that he pulled off his shelf, he cited Benjamin Franklin's essential virtues: temperance, silence, frugality, resolution, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, order, industry, sincerity, humility, chastity, and justice. As the afternoon wore on, we explored other virtues, such as dependability, honesty, self-control, helpfulness, and tolerance. He brought up the idea that, as times change, emphases on virtues alter, too. It appeared that tolerance was becoming important to me, but as Josie's book review made clear, it wasn't held in esteem by the old Puritans—in fact, by almost none of the religions, which tend to view others as "lost" or infidels.
Mr. Gibbs and I agreed that one virtue appeared to be declining—responsibility to earn a living. "Beggars and criminals are just deadbeats," he said. "On the other hand, self-respecting people work hard and spend their money carefully. Government welfare programs are good, when regulated, but all too often destroy the incentive to work. Many who could work expect handouts and that drives a wedge between workers and loafers. Welfare's not really racial," he said, "but unfortunately, it has serious racial overtones. If uncontrolled, it's bad politics and it'll come back to bite you. The way out of poverty is not welfare, but education and work." When I mentioned that white people like us would probably appreciate anyone, colored or white, who pursued an education and wanted to work, he grinned and said, "It sounds simple, doesn't it? It's not as easy as would appear."
Having lived in Kansas and the South, as well as in California, Miz' Goldie often had a different point of view. When I ran by her the discussion with Mr. Gibbs, she motioned to pause, went to her den, and returned with a book that she placed between us on her kitchen table. Before opening it, she drew a line down the middle of a piece of typing paper. On the left, she asked me to write "work hard," and on the right, "slack off." Then, we began rummaging around for other major differences between people. Obviously having been down this road before, both lists were mostly hers.
work hard slack off
community oriented individualist
moderate excessive, extremist
patriotic despise the system
A glance at the two columns left no doubt that I was considerably more in favor of traditional Judaeo-Christian values being basic to life, society, and the business world. "Basically," she said, "you're a good boy. You play by the rules, salute the flag, say grace before meals, and believe in "the common good." Others are more comfortable with values in the opposite column, however, and like it or not, those people are fostering significant changes—politically, economically, literarily, musically, artistically, socially, and educationally. Their numbers will surely increase."
What intrigued me most was her observation that, "So you don't agree with the values in the opposite column. Well, it might surprise you that people with those values are the ones most interested in justice. You do appreciate the values in the column on the left; however, much of the racial injustice that has been bothering you is fostered and continued by people with those values." With that remark, a very frustrating question began nagging me—why aren't hard-working, traditional, community-oriented, moderate, patriotic people more committed to justice?