State Auditor Shad White (Photo from MS OSA Facebook)
Mississippi State Auditor Shad White says the health of our nation depends on voicing the truth about how important families are to our health and happiness as well as society as a whole.
I spoke at a community college graduation ceremony and the video of the speech set off a firestorm on social media. A clip of the speech has been viewed tens of thousands of times. The controversy it created is important because it raised a critical debate about our society.
Here’s the background: on May 11th, I spoke to the graduating class at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
“The most important thing you can do for your health and happiness is to invest in a family…getting married and having kids,” I said. “It’s actually backed up by research. Harvard did a huge study of what makes people happy over many, many decades, and what they found is that strong social bonds—particularly family bonds—help you live longer and happier. It’s almost like magic.”
When the video of the speech hit the web, some people went nuts.
“This is single-handedly the worst piece of advice I’ve ever heard. Go out and live your lives to the fullest,” said one person.
“This is definitely not what I told my daughters,” said another.
“Hard pass. My free time and disposable income rock,” said another.
“This is why it’s not a good idea to have Christians in public office,” said another.
And as always, I was called a racist. “The Master Race must be regenerated!” said one person (for the record, my kids are biracial). “[That] all sounds Aryan,” said someone else.
I’m the frequent target of crazies on the Internet, and I usually just brush off the criticism, but the people who objected to this speech were making arguments far too dangerous to ignore. The debate here is necessary, because the health of our society hinges on it. And the responses are tragic for a few reasons.
First, the responses fly in the face of a mountain of research on human happiness. If you don’t believe me, Google “Harvard scholar Arthur Brooks and happiness” and start reading. If we cannot acknowledge the truth or the data, we cannot make good personal or policy decisions. Standing for unpopular or uncomfortable truths, like saying the scientific truth that men cannot become women, or touting the research around poverty (getting married, finishing school, and getting a job before having kids nearly guarantees you won’t end up in poverty according to Brookings), or highlighting the data around the importance of engaged fathers in a kid’s life, or discussing the importance of faith and family according to the research into human happiness, or talking about the overwhelming research showing more police equals less crime, etc. is more critical than ever.
I suspect one reason that the truth about families is so hard to recognize is that our society idolizes personal autonomy instead of sacrifice. Society tells people to live their “best lives,” make money to spend on yourself, find your own definition of your gender and sexuality, and so on. People begin to believe their own gratification is their purpose, the teleological end they should reach for. Families get in the way of that. When my children demand my time, attention, or resources, I sacrifice my own gratification for theirs.
But in this sacrifice comes deep fulfillment (and again, that’s backed by research). Challenging the altar of individual autonomy makes some people angry because it forces them to question their own choices. It forces people to acknowledge that they may need to give up short-run freedom or pleasure in exchange for long-run happiness. And a lot of people don’t like confronting this reality.
Second, the response to the speech is a tragedy because it foretells problems in the future. If so many people reject the truth that deep family ties can help you live happier and longer, we will see an epidemic of loneliness in the coming years. This will break society. Mental health will suffer. In the words of Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
This conversation is important for this very reason—the health of our entire nation depends on it. The modern left is so angered by this discussion that they hope to bully anyone from voicing the truth about how important families are. The reactions to the speech prove it. They hope to stop us from saying these important things to young people as those young people make the most critical decisions of their lives. This is also why it’s important that those of us still willing to speak the truth do so without hesitation. People are watching and listening. Please tell your kids. If we abandon this playing field, our country will break.
“Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease.” Jeremiah 29:6