Read: Gordon B. Hinckley, “Four Simple Things to Help Our Families and Our Nations,” Ensign, Sep 1996, 2
Gordon B. Hinckley, a former president of the Mormon Church, spoke to the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Brigham Young University Management Society on 5 March 1994 about how to help our nation while helping our families. He outlined four points every family can undertake that will have nationwide and worldwide impact while strengthening their own homes.
President Hinkley said, “I am more concerned about the moral deficit in our nations than I am about their budget deficits, though that, too, is a most serious matter. Do societies need more policemen? I do not dispute it. Do societies need more prisons? I suppose so. But what they need, above all else, is a strengthening of the homes of the people. Every child is a product of a home. Societies are having terrible youth problems, but I am convinced that they have a greater parent problem.”
He is not a pessimist, however. He felt it was entirely possible to change the world for the better by beginning right in our own homes. “What can be done? We cannot effect a turnaround in a day or a month or a year. But I am satisfied that with enough effort we can begin a turnaround within a generation and accomplish wonders within two generations. That is not very long in the history of man. There is nothing any of us can do that will have greater longtime benefit than to rekindle wherever possible the spirit of the kind of homes in which goodness can flourish.”
President Hinckley reminded parents that it is easier to shape a child in his early years than it is later on, when challenges have become habit. He encouraged parents to start immediately to bring about the kind of family they want to have.
His first key to strengthening the family is to teach children goodness. We teach them letters, shapes, colors, and numbers, but we often neglect to teach them goodness. What type of goodness do we need to teach them? This is not just about obeying. This is about a deep internalized goodness that will take them through their lives. President Hinckley recommended the teaching of civility as a key to teaching goodness. He discussed the challenges facing Yugoslavia at the time, with groups of people killing those who belonged to different groups. He suggested this horrible situation began in the homes of the people of Yugoslavia.
“Why all of this? I believe it comes of the fact that for generations in the homes of that area, hatred has been communicated, hatred for those of ethnic roots other than one’s own. The terrible situation in that area is the bitter fruit of seeds of hatred sown in the hearts of children by the previous generation.
“There is no need in any land for conflict between diverse groups of any kind. Let there be taught in the homes of people that we are all children of God, our Eternal Father, and that as surely as there is fatherhood, there can and must be brotherhood. Let there be taught respect for womanhood and manhood. Let every husband speak with respect, kindness, and appreciation for his wife. Let every wife look for and speak of the virtues of her husband. President David O. McKay [another former Mormon president was wont to say that a man could do no greater thing for his children than to let them see that he loves their mother.”
President Hinckley reminds parents that words are not enough. They must set the example for their children by living a life of civility themselves.
His second suggestion is that families work together. When parents and children engage in meaningful work as a family, they strengthen their family bonds. I still remember, as a child, family projects in which we picked up trash on the beach together. At home, we all did our chores as we sang, told jokes, or recited poetry. My mother often played quizmaster and as we competed to answer the questions, we learned history, science, and literature. In addition, President Hinckley points out that if we have to clean up the results of what we do, we are less likely to make a mess. He suggests there would be less graffiti if the people who made it had to clean it up.
President Hinckley’s third suggestion is that families read good books together. We all know the educational benefits of reading with our children, but do we also think about the moral benefits of reading together? When watching television, you’re generally limited in your ability to stop and discuss but a book is entirely controlled by the readers and listeners. At any moment, you can stop reading, reread a passage, discuss the issue at hand. If a child in a book makes a decision, you can go back, read again what was decided and why, and then talk about the decision. Was it good or bad? What would your child do in that situation? Books let you peek safely into another life and make theoretical choices that may well play out in real life one day. It allows a family to see the possible consequences of a choice.
However, the books must be chosen with care. The fact that it is a book and not a movie does not mean it is automatically better for a child. President Hinckley suggests the Bible as a good book for families to read together. Mormons, for instance, encourage families to have family scripture study every day, reading a small portion of scripture and then discussing it as a family. What a child can learn about scripture in Sunday School is simply not enough to build a complete foundation.
It’s always wise to read a book before reading it with your children so you will know if the book is appropriate and so you can be prepared to guide your children through it. While people in books, like people in real life, will make bad choices (because that is what lends the tension to a story), parents can guide the children to evaluate the choices, rather than just accepting them. If the book should take a different approach than you want your children to make, you can be ready to counter it with discussion and another book that chooses another path.
A study once involved two children’s book written by the same author. The author told the same story in each book, but one book was from the point of view of a child being bullied. The other was from the point of view of the bully. Researchers discovered that children sided with the character whose viewpoint they read first, even after reading both books. It’s important, then, to be careful not just of the books we choose, but the order in which we read them.
Reading books together create shared memories and help to shape the values of the family.
President Hinckley’s final suggestion was that families need to pray together. A family prayer each morning can send children off to school with the Holy Ghost in their hearts and a reminder of who they are—God’s child. A family prayer at night sends them to sleep with a feeling of peace.
President Hinckley reminded parents that although starting when a child is small is best, it is never too late to begin. A home with teenagers can benefit from these changes as well. When the individuals are strengthened by their parents, they take that strength into the world and become a part of the strengthening of the nation. Imagine the changes that would happen in our country in two generations if even half the parents decided to institute these four principles into their homes and to train their children to do the same in theirs.