“Ask not what you can do for your country. Ask what your government can do for you.”
Wait a minute. Those weren’t John F. Kennedy’s words. In his inaugural address, he asked Americans to serve their nation by serving others, not the other way around. He said, “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country.”
The sentiment in that address helped spawn a generation that looked to do just that. They really believed in those words. Looking at youth today, almost five decades later, I’m worried that some do not embrace those words through actions. For rural America, more than anywhere else, this would be tragic.
People wear so many hats these days in rural communities, churches, schools and organizations. Folks are spread pretty thin. It will take a new generation of enthusiastic “doers” to help rural America grow and thrive.
We have to continue to teach our children that sometimes it is better to serve, than to be served. It is better to help someone who is worse off than we are, even if we are pretty bad off. It is better to support the friends and neighbors around us, even if it means sacrifice on our parts, not through some government program, but by putting our own personal values to work where we live.
As I talk with 4-H and FFA members in our area and their parents and families, my concerns subside. You see it in FFA skills contests, meetings, conventions and programs. You see it in 4-H speaking contests and community service projects. The future leaders in agriculture seem poised to take the reins of “agvocacy” with confidence. Rural culture is filled with the ideals of neighbors helping neighbors, pitching in when someone is down, and helping out folks when they need it. That is how so many of us were raised, and it is how our rural schools, churches and communities have kept going through thick and thin.
FFA and 4-H members and other young, rural leaders are normally quite busy, completing service projects for their schools and communities and advocating for agriculture whenever they have a chance. Churches and other rural groups make it their mission to foster a values system that looks to put others before ourselves. That is how our future rural leaders have learned their lessons – by doing. Practice makes perfect.
What happens to folks who are only living life for themselves when times are hard? What happens to them when they are forced to experience challenges and obstacles to success? Will they have the fortitude to strive to gain their footing, to prioritize aspects of their lives to help their communities survive, or will they wither, playing the victim and waiting for someone else to take responsibility for them and pick up the pieces?
Farmers are used to hard times and difficulties. These are situations they deal with every day. Their faith, their learning experiences and their determination help them forge forward, even in the face of financial troubles, drought, flood, pests and other maladies. I would hope that all Americans would learn from farmers how to pick themselves up, dust themselves off and make a future for their families through service to their communities and service to others. I think our farm youth are well on their way in continuing to make service a way of life in today’s society.
Be sure to watch www.nebraskafarmer.com and read our upcoming print issue of Nebraska Farmer for news, information and tips on meeting the challenges of drought. Your best online resource for drought information is the Farm Progress drought site at www.DatelineDrought.com.