Three heavy-hitter words. And, unfortunately, in short supply right now. Accompanying these words are trust, fairness, respect for others, and accountability— not at the top of the list of values in our society right now. Instead, we have greed, selfishness, showmanship, egocentrism, narcissism, and self-pride. Call me old-fashioned, but there is still a place for integrity, truthfulness, and responsibility. Instead of showing disdain for being politically correct, how about just being polite? Just because you have negative thoughts doesn’t mean you can say them out loud with no regard to how it might affect another human being. “Anything goes” is not without limits. Words do affect all of us, both in a positive as well as negative way. Again, we must take responsibility for what we say. Sadly, too many people have the attitude that after past years of keeping their mouths shut, they can let loose and incite, voice their hate, and put up bogus conspiracy theories. Since we, our society, can’t control our leaders to set the example of “doing the right thing,” to be honest and forthright, we have to do ourselves, every one of us.
I put these qualities of trust, respect, integrity, and accountability in the characters of my writings. The best example is the ill-fated Robert Stangarden in A Brother for Sorrows. He always tries his best, is not afraid of hard work, and has a visceral sense of honesty and integrity. He has an almost naiveté attitude about how he sees his world, projecting his values of truthfulness onto others. So, as he sits in an interview room with a couple of detectives, how shocked is he when he hears complete lies about him from his own father. Yet, his loyalty to this Nazi brute remains steadfast. Later in the novel, this makes his family’s real truth even harder to hear and accept.
Another example is in the short story, A Marshall Fields Christmas Story. The protagonist, Alice, is so desperate for attention and love that she falls for an assistant manager, Greg Newkirk. This man is a study in deception and lies. And just like what we see today in political circles, he takes advantage of a vulnerable underling and exploits her loyalty for his own monetary gain. However, unlike some on Capitol Hill, she courageously stands up to this thief by exposing him to her department manager. Her inner sense of right and wrong overrides whatever attachment she feels for this man. She loses who she thought was her boyfriend, but she can get a good night’s sleep and wake up with a “song in her heart.” Her actions remind us that we must connect with our conscience and act when we see injustice, even when we might get hurt in doing so.
Speaking of Capitol Hill, the 1950s era of McCarthyism is under the microscope in Elves in Little Red Suits. Marty Brewer is gung-ho in his job of rooting out communism. He believes that what he is doing is “the right thing.” His boss is America’s man of the hour, on the front lines saving democracy and the American Way. But when interviewing Hollywood bigwigs and stars, Marty gets caught up in a choking web of lies, innuendos, rumors, and backstabbing. Again, selfish, insecure characters take advantage of the “Red Scare” milieu to further their own careers at others’ expense. They step on their professional colleagues’ necks and never look down. At the story’s end, Marty has an epiphany. Digging into his own sense of what’s right and what’s wrong, he decides that he cannot continue this destructive charade. His decision means quitting his job, but he is willing to make that sacrifice.
So what will be our sacrifice to recapture our values of integrity, tolerance, and honesty? Can we resuscitate our moral character? At this point in our nation’s history, our words and actions will determine that. As an American society, can we claw back our sense of dignity, respect for each other, courtesy, and deference? I hope my stories will give you, the reader, the inspiration to do just that.