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A tough act to follow

4/3/2013, 7:35 a.m.
“This old age stuff is not all that it’s cracked up to be.” ...
“This old age stuff is not all that it’s cracked up to be.”

A tough act to follow

Nothing is more complex and more challenging than to be mayor of a major city. The diversity of religion and ethnicity assure multiple reactions to any policy decision, and varied vested interests battle over economic issues. It is no wonder that most mayors endure the conflicts for only a few years and move on.

Tom Menino has continued to lead Boston with vigor for a record 20 years, and he has performed superlatively. His open secret has been his love for the city. It is unremarkable for politicians to state that they love Boston, but few love the city like Menino. Everyone understands that the greatest recommendation for a proposal vying for the support of the mayor was that it offers the greatest benefit to the citizens of Boston.

There was never a back story to be concerned about on any issue. Menino would take enormous political risks for the benefit of his fellow Bostonians, and he would change his public support on a position if it turned out that a better plan was proposed. It is indeed rare for a powerful politician to acknowledge that he might have erred. And in 20 years there has been no indication of unseemly payoffs or favors.

Tom Menino always maintained a nobility of purpose with which other highly principled citizens could affiliate. Mayor Menino has established a high standard for his successors to emulate.

A decline in cultural values

Easter is the holiest of Christian holidays. Christmas festivities are replaced by solemnity. The devout contemplate the importance of the religious teachings of their own denominations.

People normally underestimate the sociological importance of such teachings and the customs of their community. When community values change and social stability goes awry, people rarely attribute the result to a failure to observe social values. It is usually easier to attribute the phenomenon of things falling apart to factors outside of one’s own culture, but Koreans assumed responsibility.

The New York Times recently published an article about the social impact of a major deviation from Confucian principles in South Korea. There has been an alarming increase in suicides among people 65 and older. In 2000, there were 1,161 such deaths but by 2010 there was a substantial increase to 4,378.

Research by sociologists concluded that ignoring some Confucian principles was responsible for the tragic statistic. One of the five major principles of Confucius is the development of love within the family: Parents are to be unstinting in the care and education of their children and they are to be rewarded by the filial piety of their sons.

The rapid industrialization of South Korea forced a change in this principle. Parents have had to be excessive in assuming the cost of education for their children. These expenses made it difficult for parents to provide for their old age. However, when it came time for their children to step up and support their parents, the children were absorbed in their own industrially ambitious lives.

What made it worse, elderly parents could not get aid from the government unless they certified that their children were unable or unwilling to care for them. Many parents felt that suicide was preferable to such a humiliating admission.

If the sociological analysis is accurate, members of the younger generation were induced to deviate from the social pattern. This left the elderly with a choice between humiliation or annihilation, and the annual suicide rate increased by 277 percent in only 10 years.

One must wonder what changes in the black culture have induced the sharp growth in homicides by urban black youth.