How do Conservative principles impact the happiness and prosperity of all Americans?"
By Kent Shelton
In 1975, my parents moved our family to Heber Valley. We arrived before the start of school in the fall. At the beginning of the new school year, papers were passed out for parents to sign indicating family qualifications for free school lunches. Being teenage boys in the high school, my brother and I listened to our new friends boast that they would have their parents sign the waivers and be on their way to free school lunches. None of our friends looked the part of needy. By most appearances they came from middle class environments. We weren’t poor either. We were, however, living in an old farm house, while our family worked in the construction of a new home in the evenings. I reasoned that the old home with a hallway that sloped in two directions with crooked out of square doors would serve us well in the appearance of deserving the waiver’s promise. Surely, if we were to get the free lunches, we would at least look the part and nobody would be the wiser…
So, not to be outside the loop with a contest of boys, my brother and I determined to get our parents signatures as well. That evening we pitched the idea to our parents, including the paperwork, for quick signatures. Dad listened to the proposal, asked who our friends were that were applying, and then told us that we too would qualify for free school lunches. However, we would have to meet his two conditions: we were to change our names to the names of our friends and move out of the house. “But why?” we asked. “This is not the way things should be,” was Dad’s answer. We soon learned that no son of his would ever qualify by a lie under Dad’s signature for something he did not earn or deserve. My brother and I paid for our own school lunches after that.
What does a silly story have to do with a question about how conservative principles impact the happiness and prosperity of all Americans? - Maybe everything. The principles of integrity, independence, thrift, industry and self reliance are virtues that bring happiness and prosperity. It is human nature to unconsciously fool ourselves into thinking that we can take something we did not earn or deserve. It becomes easy to forget that in order for our government to give us something, it must first take something from us.
Thrift and self-reliance are noble virtues. Some, not unlike foolish teenage boys, make the mistake of identifying prosperity in terms of who is living better than they are. If they attempt to equalize themselves with others through deception or going into debt, they may find themselves suffering from the crushing weight of that debt. Instead, the family that saves their earnings for a treasured reward, a rainy day provision, and enough to look after and care for those in need, is able to experience the rewards of prosperity and extend it to others. Happy is the man who earns his own bread.
The freedoms we have in America, coupled with creativity and ambition, bring us opportunities to improve our own circumstances. We can enjoy the long term satisfaction of success achieved, rather than the temporary comfort of success rewarded to us.
Benjamin Franklin once wrote that “only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more vicious [or lacking in virtue], they have need of masters.” The key to our prosperity and happiness lies in our ability to not paint virtues into shades of gray. When we value the virtues of honesty, thrift, industry, and self-reliance, we will not be among the clamor of shouting voices claiming the system has failed us, or among those who have surrendered and timidly acknowledge that we have failed the system. There is no such thing as a free lunch.