To the man lost in a dense forest, on the open ocean, or disoriented on some mountain ledge, life is suddenly tenuous. That is what addiction, depression, and inconsolable loss can do to people – and why saving one life is mission enough, or why conservatives should care, not scoff.
Yet one sees evermore offhand comments by glib politicians and those irked by modern society, dismissing the misfortunes of others as their own fault, encouraging callous reactions, offering disdain, maybe a platitude, taking a devil-may-care attitude. They just scoff.
Here is the rub. As a lifetime conservative, avid reader of the Founding Fathers, Edmund Burke, William Buckley, Huxley, Orwell, and Russell Kirk; as someone schooled in the White Houses of Ronald Reagan and George HW Bush, who worked for Gingrich, glib is not where it is at.
The point of conservatism is not to punish those who fail to understand ideas like self-reliance, self-discipline, self-respect, self-determination, and dangers lurking in liberal entitlement.
The point is not to condemn those who become lost in the thickets of modern nonsense, disoriented by meaningless rhetoric, misguided by untruths, socialism, escapism, and blame.
The point is not to join the finger pointing crowd but to rise above it. When someone begins to lose their way, or is discovered having lost their way, is struggling on a sea of sorrows, the point is to be there in the moment, be worth your salt, be present in their life for a time, be their rock.
Conservatives are not about indulging dependence, crime, disrespect, riots, or laziness, but they are also not about giving up on lonely souls, imagining that we are somehow impervious to what ails others. The conservative is about living with compassion hourly, with the humility to help.
When one reads or hears the idea that conservatives can walk away from vexing problems, leave others to languish in their failures, missteps, poverty, and pain, content to admire the mess others have made of the world, then declare it is not their problem – that is wrong.
That is not what a thoughtful, faith-centered, compassionate conservative does. He or she does the exact opposite. They model engagement, get involved, have the hard discussion, and do not give up on that soul who has given up … on being “unlost.”
Conservatives turn into the wind, go into that dense forest, out on that sea, up that ridge – to do whatever they can while they can for those who need the knowledge they have, the life lessons missing, the encouragement that will turn the corner, hope that comes only from another caring.
Unbecoming of any self-identified conservative is the idea of indifference, the notion that we are entitled – we, of all people – to somehow dismiss the deep troubles of others, condemn them, isolate them, ridicule them, blame or treat them as the scourge we are not, and never could be.
In 1553, the Protestant religious leader John Bradford, former counselor to King Edward VI, was imprisoned by Edward’s Catholic successor, Mary I. As he watched men led to execution, he remarked “There but for the grace of God go I.” His time would come, but he knew the truth.
We are all human, all vulnerable, fragile, subject to the passage of time, sudden turn of tides, misfortunes that overtake us from behind, no warning, left with forlorn hope – at the mercy of someone not as close to the edge, not yet lost in that forest, on that sea, or on that ledge.
When I hear or read others – sure in their position, wealth, health, or life’s virtue – I am reminded of what it means to be a conservative, giving without asking, exercising humility and discretion, recalling that today you may be free of adversity, but tomorrow you may need what you chose not to give.
Conservatives value tradition, institutions, self-help, courage, decency, and rights of individuals as individuals, not as groups. But they also believe in the dignity of one soul, one person, one life – every life – and doing what we can to empower, not let hopelessness devour, that soul.
When next you think a life not worth the time, perhaps remember this line – from Ronald Reagan’s later years. “We cannot help everyone,” he wrote, “but everyone can help someone.” That is how the lost become unlost, scared become un-scared, and how conservatives teach what conservatism is about, individuals caring about individuals. That – just that – is mission enough.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.