Caring Enough to Challenge

Terry Paulson

6/18/2012 12:01:00 AM - Terry Paulson

American capitalism doesn’t make you selfish; socialistic entitlements foster more selfishness. Free enterprise encourages you to earn your reward by serving customers willing to pay; entitlements build the expectation that someone else ought to pay to fulfill your wants and needs. Have we forgotten the importance of fostering the values of personal responsibility and charity instead of encouraging envy and dependence?

The best parents hold you accountable and challenge you to invent your own future. The best teachers care enough to raise the bar and applaud when you reach it. The best bosses expect you to make a difference and give you an opportunity to prove it and give you a reward and new opportunities when you do. The best presidents appeal to our confidence and encourage us to bring our dreams into reality; the worst feed our self-doubts and encourage more to settle for "temporary" government dependence.

The civil, or not so civil, battle for the future of America is clearer than ever in the upcoming election—individual freedom or bigger government, personal responsibility or dependence, the American Dream or mind-dulling entitlements. Do we believe so little in the potential of our fellow Americans that we think they can't make it without more government aid? What happened to neighbors helping neighbors until they're back on their feet? What happened to using character-building struggles to make Americans stronger and reinforce core values?

Thankfully, I’ve been blessed with caring people in my life who cared enough to hold me accountable and challenge me to study hard to find my place in the future, to spend and borrow wisely, to pay off my loans, to save for a rainy day, to give to charities and people in need, and to work hard while serving others to earn a good living and achieve excellence. In short, they all taught me the importance of personal responsibility as the most reliable springboard to personal opportunity.

Mrs. Nason was my best and my toughest high school teacher. Used to A’s in English, I was stunned when my first paper came back with a C-. Assuming she might have misjudged my effort, I stayed after class. Her words stung, “You’re not used to this, are you Terry? I checked to make sure you were not in this class by mistake. I found straight A’s; I’m not sure how you earned them. This paper looked like you did it the night before it was due.”

I wanted to leave, but she continued, “The only reason you even got a C- is that there's clear potential here. I think you could be a writer, but you'll have to work to earn you’re A’s in this class. In fact, I’m going to grade you harder than the others.” Today, sadly, some might sue her for emotional distress and discrimination! But it was Mrs. Nason who shaped my writing skills. Mrs. Nason encouraged and worked with me to try out for graduation speaker. It was a Mrs. Nason beaming in the front row that helped me through that graduation speech! She brought out my best by requiring it!

My dad clearly loved me and cared enough to challenge me with support and timely doses of tough love. Surviving the Great Depression, he stressed the need to save money for what you want to buy. Every dime I made went for my education, and dad gave me some support. But when I graduated from UCLA and applied to graduate school, he pulled me aside and said, “I always wanted you to get an education, but I never wanted you to get carried away with this. The rest of your education is on you!” When you are paying for your own education, you focus and complete your studies as quickly as possible. I lost dad last November, but, on this Father's Day weekend, I thank him for never spoiling me and steeling me for life's challenges.

President Ronald Reagan was the best president I’ve voted for. In tough times, there were no wasteful stimulus packages or bailed out companies “too big to fail.” Instead of appealing to our worst fears, he appealed to our best hopes—to our confidence, not our doubts. To Reagan, it wasn’t the government that would save us; it was the American people that would save the country by their innovation, hard work, investments and drive to succeed.

When speaking to Americans from the oval office, he said,“I’m not taking your time this evening to ask you to trust me. Instead, I ask you to trust yourself. That is what America is all about… It’s the power of millions of people like you who will determine what will make America great again.”

Like Mrs. Nason and my dad, Reagan humbly knew that the strength of America resides in a free people taking responsibility for their own lives. Citizens empowered by an optimistic dream of what they can become in a free country. America desperately needs the values those kinds of parents, teachers, and presidents instill. May it be so!