I think of the devastation in New York and throughout the Northeast caused by Hurricane Sandy, and I’m reminded of a book written by Laurens Vander Post, “The Heart of the Hunter.” It’s a story about the bushmen of the Kalahari Desert in Africa. What’s pivotal to the story is the social order adhered to by a rather primitive culture. Famine, pestilence and other calamities are dealt with collectively. In their social structure, one’s tribe’s difficulty is everyone’s difficulty. Perhaps they’re not as primitive as Western mind purports them to be. “Am I not my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis)
Citizenship is paramount in our interdependent world. It would be difficult to enjoy the privileges of affluence and with a clear conscience break our contract with society by indifference toward the inflictions of our neighbors. We honor our contract when we do our share to bolster one another in time of need.
The founders of our country believed that civic virtue was essential for the preservation of our democracy. Plato believed virtue sustains the collective order of society but virtue, when practiced, elevates the individual. Similarly, Martin Luther King said, “Our lives begin to end when we become indifferent to the things that matter.”
I learned the importance of both individual and civic responsibility on Oct.12, 1960. Earlier that day, Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union, pounded the podium with his shoe while he professed to the General Assembly at the United Nations, “We will bury you”! It was the height of the Cold War with tensions running high between East and West, subsequently few statements were taken metaphorically.
In the Bronx, our scout troop met that evening in the gym of Saint Frances of Rome. Mr. Gerard, our scoutmaster, gathered the troop together in column formation. He was a rough man who made his living at the docks. But what defined him was that he was a member of the greatest generation. I’m not sure where he found the words, but I remember what he said that night.
It’s been 52 years. I picture him in his disheveled scout shirt, standing stoop-shouldered in front of the troop. He told us, “The first line of defense would be the Boy Scouts of America; and that we would ensure our strength as a nation by believing in and living the scout motto, ‘Do a good turn daily.’” He continued to say, “If the Russians attacked, we would help our neighbor and be good citizens build a strong country. It’s up to you.”
I looked around in the ranks, and most of the kids stood tall. Mr. Gerard had given us a purpose. He never read Plato, but what he said came as divine inspiration, from his heart.
It’s time for La Cañada Flintridge to “uncase the colors” and do what we can for the hurricane victims on the East Coast. There’s genius in action! Whatever we can will go a long way.
Can I ask the leaders of all scout troops to commit their boys and girls to projects that would assist those inflicted by Sandy? How about the school district, LCUSD and the numerous private schools, a project is waiting. Here’s a great teaching moment, don’t let it slip away.
Mr. Gerard is no longer here to remind us of what to do. So, instead I’ll use John Donne’s prose, “No Man is an Island”: All mankind is of one author…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all....No man is an island, entire of itself...any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.
JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit his website at doctorjoe.us.