Bush’s fu­neral re­minds us of the val­ues the great­est gen­er­a­tion be­stowed on U.S., Wil­liam Mcken­zie says

The Dallas Morning News - - World - Wil­liam Mcken­zie is ed­i­to­rial di­rec­tor of the Ge­orge W. Bush In­sti­tute. He wrote this col­umn for The Dal­las Morn­ing News.

Ge­orge H.W. Bush’s memo­rial ser­vices were not only a stir­ring trib­ute to a good and de­cent man. They also were ef­fec­tively the last pub­lic memo­rial for a gen­er­a­tion of Amer­i­cans who served the na­tion from per­ilous bat­tle­fields to home­town com­mu­ni­ties to even the high­est of­fice in the land.

This is said with no dis­re­spect to the ser­vices that will mark the pass­ing of sur­viv­ing mem­bers of that gen­er­a­tion like Jimmy Carter and Bob Dole. But the norms of a gen­er­a­tion fast re­ced­ing from our lives were cap­tured al­most per­fectly in the cer­e­monies for Bush. And for good rea­son. Ge­orge and Bar­bara Bush em­bod­ied a gen­er­a­tion’s love of coun­try, com­mu­nity and, yes, ser­vice, that fa­mil­iar but ap­pro­pri­ate word that of­ten is used to de­scribe this de­voted pair.

As with the Bushes, many in their gen­er­a­tion gave back in lit­tle and big ways, from at­tend­ing un­told PTA meet­ings and Lit­tle League games, to build­ing a roar­ing econ­omy, to tak­ing care of their home­towns. As with the Bushes, these were not per­fect peo­ple who made noth­ing but per­fect de­ci­sions. As a gen­er­a­tion, too many took too long to rec­og­nize the value that racial di­ver­sity brings to a na­tion that prides it­self on e pluribus unum.

Still, the one-two punch of the Great De­pres­sion and World War II made them re­al­ize that forces be­yond their con­trol were ca­pa­ble of hum­bling even the bravest and wealth­i­est. Per­haps that is why, in a pre-kar­dashian world, mod­esty was seen as a virtue. Brag­ging was cer­tainly not ex­tolled in the post-world War II house­hold my brother and I grew up in. Woe unto ye if you were caught puff­ing your chest.

The norms of this gen­er­a­tion were on dis­play even down to the farewell hymn Bush se­lected for his Hous­ton fu­neral ser­vice: “On­ward, Chris­tian Sol­diers.” I al­most jumped out of my seat in hear­ing that one from a pre-po­lit­i­cally cor­rect world.

Be­fore my fa­ther died five years ago at age 90, he had asked if it could be sung at his fu­neral. I told him I would check, although I wasn’t sure our main­line Protes­tant de­nom­i­na­tion still had that one on the playlist. Sure enough, when I asked the min­is­ter, he smiled and said that was no longer in the hymn book but, with a twin­kle in his eye, he added, we sure will sing it. The hymn may sound a bit mil­i­tant to­day, but it was part of their ethic of get up and get go­ing.

Mo­ments like this week can make the

Bush-era gen­er­a­tion seem al­most mythic. It was not, and it would be a mis­take for Amer­i­cans in to­day’s gen­er­a­tions to think the norms the Bushes rep­re­sented — ci­vil­ity, mod­esty and fair play; char­ac­ter over pedi­gree, as Ge­orge W. Bush put it — are not avail­able to them.

I am not think­ing here about baby boomers. We are not through yet, but we have largely had our mo­ment and are the next gen­er­a­tion to head out the door. In­stead, I am think­ing about Amer­i­cans un­der 35 or 40, to whom the fu­ture will in­deed be­long.

The fact is, it doesn’t take a bone-jar­ring de­pres­sion or, God for­bid, a world war to put “kinder and gen­tler” into use. Or to ex­tol oth­ers over self, at least some of the time. Or to serve through love, not just to pad your ré­sumé.

Putting these val­ues into ac­tion will take some con­trar­i­an­ism. The

New York Times re­cently ran an op-ed about how we are all in sales now. In our world of self-pro­mo­tion, “brand­ing” one­self is be­com­ing the way to mar­ket your skills. In or­der to ad­vance, we are un­der con­stant pres­sure to sell our­selves, au­thor Ruth Whipp­man wrote.

Per­haps some of this shift is about em­pow­er­ing in­di­vid­u­als over large, mono­lithic in­sti­tu­tions. If so, that is not all bad. But an at­om­ized way of life ul­ti­mately un­der­mines the sense of com­mu­nity that our democ­racy de­pends upon.

Re­as­sur­ingly, some young peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ing in a set of in­ter­views on lead­er­ship for the Bush In­sti­tute have em­pha­sized the im­por­tance of lead­ers show­ing em­pa­thy and lis­ten­ing to oth­ers. Those are akin to the premium many in their grand­par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion put on mod­esty and ci­vil­ity.

May they now run with the lessons in char­ac­ter that have been shown them. The lessons are eter­nal in na­ture and uni­ver­sal to all gen­er­a­tions. Thank God we were re­minded of them this week.

Sha­ban Athu­man/staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Mem­bers of the Mag­no­lia fire de­part­ment hoisted a flag along the route of the train that car­ried Pres­i­dent Bush’s re­mains from Spring to Col­lege Sta­tion on Thurs­day.

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