As one who enjoys reading, I have too many "favorites." But an all-time favorite read is "The Traveler's Gift" by Andy Andrews. It's a historical fiction that travels through time encountering some of history's notables: Abraham Lincoln, Solomon, Harry Truman and Anne Frank, to name a few.
In one chapter, a vivid word picture is painted describing the fear, danger and determination felt by the Frank family while hiding during the ravages against the Jewish people in World War II. Anne Frank dialogues with the book's main character about her dire circumstances and contrasting resilience.
"Our very lives are fashioned by choice. ... First we make choices. Then our choices make us," the young lady remarks of her family's determination enduring two years of atrocities in the Holocaust.
What choices have we made as a society in the last decades?
Collectively, we've come to choose a culture that celebrates personal gratification, elevates a pop culture of extravagant extremes and over-sexualized relationships, and applauds success as defined, not by achievement, but by fame and notoriety. In the name of tolerance and political correctness, we've come to choose "whatever" over that which is good and decent. We've chosen a nanny-state government that intimidates and rejects the faith community that serves as the hand of love in benevolence and charity, not simply a handout.
So, what have our choices made for us?
In Tennessee, the birth rate to unmarried mothers was 44.1 percent. Four of 10 babies were born without the benefit of a dad -- ranking 12th worst in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010.
In a study published by the Heritage Foundation in 2010 using U.S. census data, "the poverty rate for single parents with children in the United States in 2008 was 36.5 percent. The rate for married couples with children was 6.4 percent. Being raised in a married family reduced a child's probability of living in poverty by about 80 percent."
The suicide rate in 2009 for Tennessee was the 13th highest in America, with 14.6 percent of deaths self-inflicted. The CDC found that "intentional self-harm" was the No. 10 cause of death nationally. The National Institutes of Health notes that for every suicide death, there's "an estimated 11 attempts" that are unsuccessful.
Despite the focus on "personal rights" and self-esteem, suicide attempts, as referenced by the NIH, are "not harmless bids for attention" and are "not normal responses to stress." Instead, according to the American Psychological Association, two key factors exist in those who inflict personal harm: "A perceived burdensomeness" and a "low sense of belonging." Both of these circumstances are rooted in one's family and social circle.
The CDC records "poisoning" as "the leading cause of death from injuries in the U.S." Of these deaths, 90 percent are caused by drug overdose. The National Institute of Drug Abuse states that "in 2010, an estimated 22.6 million Americans, or 8.9 percent, of the population had used an illicit drug or abused a psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or tranquilizer) in the past month." Self-medicating to escape problems is destructive.
These few statistics connect the dots that expose a trail of cultural decline that impacts the health of our families, neighborhoods, workforce and economy.
Let's be honest. More than government programs, we need an individual commitment to work hard, be honest in all of our dealings, keep promises to our families, care about the needs of others through our places of worship ... you get the idea. It's our choice; then our choices make us ... and our family, our community, our nation.
Robin Smith, a consultant at Rivers Edge Alliance, is a wife and mother living in Hixson. She served as the Tennessee Republican Party chairman from 2007-2009.