Saturday, January 08, 2011

Where Are The Grown-Ups?

Peggy Noonan is the most maddeningly inconsistent pundit in the land. When she's off, she's way off. But when she's on, as in this column called The Captain and the King, she's one of the best at capturing the cutural shortcomings in America today:

But it's a great mistake when you are in a leadership position to want to be like everyone else. Because that, actually, is not your job. Your job is to be better, and to set standards that those below you have to reach to meet. And you have to do this even when it's hard, even when you know you yourself don't quite meet the standards you represent.

A captain has to be a captain. He can't make videos referencing masturbation and oral sex. He has to uphold values even though he finds them antique, he has to represent virtues he may not in fact possess, he has to be, in his person, someone sailors aspire to be.

A lot of our leaders—the only exceptions I can think of at the moment are nuns in orders that wear habits—have become confused about something, and it has to do with being an adult, with being truly mature and sober. When no one wants to be the stuffy old person, when no one wants to be "the establishment," when no one accepts the role of authority figure, everything gets damaged, lowered. The young aren't taught what they need to know. And they know they're not being taught, and on some level they resent it. For the past 20 years I have heard parents brag, "I brought up my child to question authority." Ten years ago I started thinking, "Really? Well good luck finding it, junior."

A lot of what Noonan says about leaders--especially about what their real job is--also applies to parents. It's not always easy being the grown-up, but without them neither families or societies can succeed.