Lotta people making fun of Theodore Cleaver these days. In fact, some folks downright loathe him and the iconic 1957-63 television show Leave it to Beaver. The knock is that the Cleaver family and mid-century America represented harmful values. The parents of Mayfield were over-dressed and the kids were goody-two-shoes in a sugar-coated era of white, middle-class privilege. A time period famously parodied in the 1998 film Pleasantville.
No era is perfect. It’s true there was racism, sexism, vain facades of affluence, and economic inequities in the 1950s and 1960s. But, unfortunately, that’s true of every era. It’s true today.
While conceding that the Leave-it-Beaver world had its flaws, there’s one thing that stands out. Something that’s sorely scarce these days. Decency.
Simple things, like opening doors or carrying groceries. Saying ‘good morning’ or ‘good afternoon’ even to strangers. Bringing meals when a neighbor is sick. Innocence and modesty around life’s rites of passage. Striving to share a kind word of encouragement … and lip-biting to refrain from shaming or offending. (Today, ‘trash talking’ is not only tolerated but it’s also celebrated.) A closer look at Beaver’s world shows more than cotton-candy manners and Pollyanna. Remember the episode where the Beav convinces his Dad to hire the homeless drifter to paint the house? Or when Wally confronts Eddie Haskell’s cruel bullying? When the plot wrestled with, rather than laughed at, domestic abuse and alcoholism? The show actually pushed the envelope in its day.
Again, this isn’t a defense of the prejudice, sexism, and injustice that existed then. And I’m not saying we should go back to everything in that day. How about decency? A desire for truthfulness, kindness, hard work, sacrifice, a clean tongue, respect for elders, consequences (and forgiveness) for bad decisions, abiding by the rules, faith in God and each other … man, do I sound like an old fuddy-duddy? But why would these virtues be considered obsolete and mockable?
In a world where the mottos seem to be “You can’t tell me what to do,” “It’s not my fault,” and “I’m entitled,” … a return to simple decency might actually be the cure for what ails us.