Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Life Principles and Practices

As an inveterate reader, I am also very eclectic in what I read. In other words, I like to read everything!

The other day I pulled down one of my tomes which I occasionally browse simply because of the delightful sayings I find within the pages. Putnam’s Dictionary of Thoughts was published in 1930 and provides a vast array of quotations from British and American authors, including proverbs and familiar phrases and sayings from Hebrew, Arabic, Greek, Latin, French, German, Spanish, Dutch and other languages. And, NO, I do not know all of those languages. I do okay in French and Greek, but that’s about it.

Anyway, I saw a quote from Reverend Thomas Arnold, D.D., 1795-1842 (For the uninitiated, D.D. after the name is an earned degree which stands for Doctor of Divinity). Arnold was an Anglican priest as well as a noted historian and educator who held to a very strict moral code, often finding himself at odds with the established church leaders in England. He served as headmaster of Rugby School from 1828-41. He was then appointed to be Regius Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. Unfortunately, due to unexpected heart difficulties leading to a heart attack, he passed away after only one year in this position.

He was establishing quite a reputation for himself at the time of his death. He was in the process of writing two historical works, both unfinished: History of Rome (three volumes), and Lectures on Modern History.

The quote I ran across would be an excellent yet simple pattern for modern education to implement. It was just such a philosophical principle that Arnold introduced to his students at Rugby and Oxford.

“First, religious and moral principles; secondly, gentlemanly conduct; thirdly, intellectual ability.”

Note the order of these characteristics. First, religious and moral principles. How much we are in need of this sort of training today! Religious training presents us with the opportunity to wrestle with the “why” of life – and our mortality. It introduces a person to the divine in such a way that it teaches us not to think too highly of ourselves which also humbles us before an all knowing, all powerful, and ever-present God. The Scriptures instruct us to seek after God. When we do, we who are temporal, connect with the One who is eternal. Those who wish to lead others are fools if they do so without the guidance of God. A Latin proverb states, “It is absurd that he who does not know how to govern himself should govern others.” Even a cursory review of World History reveals the folly of men who rise in power and either ignore God, or forget God. Among the various kings of Israel, only a couple could barely qualify as being “good” leaders. Our ever advancing secular society today is doing everything it can to remove God from the fabric of our culture. We do so at our own peril.

Secondly, gentlemanly conduct. What once was considered to be behavior and speech that even the most illiterate in our society adhered to would appear to be all but lost. Not only is a civil tongue no longer the norm in everyday conversation, but to speak without using profanity and gutter language is thought to be funny. Those who have potty mouths routinely ridicule polite speech and gentlemanly manners. Holding the door open for a woman is a sign of respect, as is seating a woman at the table. Saying “Yes sir” or “No Ma’am” will often bring surprised looks and snickers from onlookers. My grandmother was born in 1888 in Concord, Massachusetts. When I was ten she moved in with us. She had been widowed for about seven years at that time. We were real pals and had lots of fun together. But you had better not forget your manners with her around! She would stand at her place at the dinner table until one of her grandsons became aware of their negligence in making sure she was properly seated. She would often look at me with an air of expectancy and say in her Bostonian way, “Chahls?” That’s the way she said my name – Charles. Instead, today we have experienced in the last two vice presidents, Cheney and Biden, men who have arbitrarily and routinely dropped what is euphemistically referred to as the F-Bomb. I’m embarrassed for our nation and the awful example it sets for our young people. It is my firm contention that the women in our society could change the vile and vulgar talk and behavior of men by simply demonstrating that they will not tolerate it. You would see an amazing transformation in male behavior virtually overnight!

Thirdly, intellectual ability. I appreciate the order Rev Arnold has given these three characteristics. First, the religious and moral base upon which the individual and society must properly function. Second, the gentlemanly conduct that allows for pleasant social interaction within families and communities. And now, sharpening the intellect through study, research and a continuing pursuit of knowledge. This part builds upon the framework of the other two. It is a firm belief in God that brings about proper behavior which then opens our minds to investigate and study everything around us. This is an amazing world which God has prepared for us and it will be a very long time, if ever, that we exhaust our knowledge of this planet we call home.

Is there someone like Reverend Thomas Arnold in our society today? If so, I would recommend that he/she be placed in charge of the U.S. Department of Education. For as the Roman poet, Virgil, said, “Of so much importance is training in our tender years.”

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