I've yet to take a moment to wish valued readers a happy new year. Here's hoping this year will improve dramatically over all we've endured for more than two years.
In all honesty, the first day of 2022 left me pondering what kind of nation we have devolved into after some 246 years.
In light of all we have witnessed of late, I wonder if our country is in the process of allowing radical views, selfish desires for political party dominance and downright greed to replace our higher qualities once cited as crucial for a nation that covets individual rights to long endure.
During my college years, I recall a political science professor once warning that the fabric of our sovereign country could not hold if every citizen insisted on aggressively pursuing their individual rights at the same time.
In other words, in addition to enjoying individual freedoms, we also must be willing to recognize, whenever it becomes necessary, what is best for preserving our nation for all.
Surrendering one's right to scream fire in a crowded theater leaps to mind, as does military conscription in times of war. Which right prevails when a bakery owner declines to make a wedding cake for those with different philosophical, religious and cultural beliefs?
Today we find ourselves in situations where purported "protests" protected under the First Amendment can easily become excuses for looting, arson and assaults, and contradict the equally protected rights of innocent store owners.
Even in a free and open society, we are limited in pursuing personal beliefs and self-interests over those of other citizens. I believe to disagree with such necessary limitations is tantamount to advocating for an authoritarian regime devoted to dictating our behavior.
The courts supposedly serve that purpose in a democratic republic. Yet many of these deciders in black robes have become advocates for a political viewpoint or ideology rather than pursuing truth and fairness in disputes over individual rights.
Beyond the judicial system and government itself, radical segments of society have taken to "canceling" many of those with whom they disagree. These types represent little more than bullying attempts to silence disparate voices.
Lest you believe I'm exaggerating, review how many speakers booked at college campuses have been disinvited because their thoughts differed from those of the majority on campus. Consequently, their possibly truthful and helpful thoughts on issues facing America were never shared.
Does that mean there's no longer room for honest debate over where truth lies in everything from politics to our social interactions? Would our higher angels want us become a nation of same-minded sheeple following in lockstep, rather than individual human animals with the God-given higher capacity to reason?
How about today's crowd that enjoys referring to themselves as being "woke?" That's become their means of signaling supposedly superior virtues, beliefs and behaviors over the thoughts and opinions of other citizens, continuously judging those who don't speak or live as they might choose.
As far as I'm concerned, each of us is entitled to the same basic rights to freedom of speech, expression and beliefs, so much of which is established by our upbringing and life experiences. We were not created to be alike, so the challenge we sadly are failing becomes how we resolve our differences in rational, inclusive ways.
A reader wrote last week to say he's been worried of late about my expressed concerns with the negative aspects of co-existence in today's America and the obvious lack of effective leadership and management at a time when so much is crushing in from every side.
He had several pertinent questions, perhaps the most salient of which is why radicals are pushing so hard for us and our children to ignore the late Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s admonition never to judge others by the color of their skin but by the content of their character, instead seeking to promote accepting and judging others precisely because of the color of their skin. To ignore King's wisdom is a preposterous and dangerous position.
I thanked the reader for his thoughts and assured him I am praying regularly, feeling fine and reminded him of my concern that our nation's survival and its life's blood continue unabated.
I write this morning in hopes these thoughts will prompt you, too, to reflect carefully on all the dysfunction and animosity we have allowed to plague our once-united states.
Who and what are driving the recent, dramatic changes in our culture? Is political control really that critical to our well-being? Will we allow the divisions between us over politics and culture to continue in a manner that could one day destroy each of us?
Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.