When we were young, we were a lot smarter. But as the years go by, many of the things we thought were smart don’t seem so smart anymore. And now we realize that no matter how smart we think we are, we are never quite smart enough. We think stocks are going up, we think we can build a better world in Mesopotamia, we think we can tell the fellow down the street how to discipline his children or decorate his house. But what do we know?
It is easier to be smart than to be good; that’s why there are so many smart people, and so few good ones. Smart men get elected to high office. They run major corporations. They write editorials for the newspaper. Pity the poor good man; he goes to parties and has nothing to say that is not mocking and cynical. Others talk about their smart deals, their smart ideas, their smart plans and successes. Women crowd around them; a smart man grows taller as he speaks. The good man shrinks. We bring it up here just to argue with it. Because we think it is virtue, not brainpower, that really pays off. “All the world is moral,” said Emerson. It is moral in the sense that if you are careless enough to step on a hoe, the handle will hit you in the face.
One generation takes the virtuous path. The next is likely to slip off, honoring the old virtues in speech, but not in act. The oldest generation of saved eagerly, and made the United States the greatest power on earth. Their children still talked their parents’ talk, but didn’t mind walking off in a different direction when the wind was at their backs. And their grand-children? The newest generation seems to have no regard whatever for the virtues of their grandparents or the futures of their grandchildren. They disregard the wisdom of the dead, and load up the unborn with debt.
– Bonner & Wiggin