Maybe every person believes they came from a great generation, but as an Atlanta native, I am so grateful I had the opportunity to grow up in Lawrenceville in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The values I learned have helped me navigate through many difficult life challenges.

When I was growing up, Gwinnett was a slow paced, friendly county of about 45,000 where everyone knew everyone, and they also knew everything about each other. This taught me that my actions had consequences that usually involved my parents, so accountability was introduced to me at a young age. People were always watching, and that meant children were generally safe. We ran around town without worrying about someone harming us, and if we needed help, someone lent a hand. People were respectful of others. I knew that people had differing views on politics and religion, but my father taught me that those were not things to be discussed because it could cause dissension. (I wonder why we stopped teaching that.) I was a teenager before I knew one of my parents was a Republican and the other a Democrat. They never argued about politics, they just joked about canceling each other’s vote. I remember my dad saying that more wars had been fought over religion than anything else. He said God allowed us to have free will and we needed to respect a person’s right to decide what they believed.

In those years before air conditioning and technology, we spent our days playing outside, swimming in the river, reading books, visiting friends and avoiding chores. When I discovered transistor radios, I begged for one for my birthday. I thought it was the greatest thing to listen to the music I wanted to hear, even though we were mostly listening to static due to the poor reception. This was an era when the Youngbloods sang, “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together, try to love one another, right now.” Popular mantra’s included: “Flower Power,” “Make Love, Not War,” “Give Peace a Chance”, and “Love is all you need.” The radio and television brought the world into our homes, and we realized the world was less safe than our community. We had to worry about the war in Vietnam and whether or not Russia was going to annihilate America. But through it all, we had time to be bored in the summer, and that boredom inspired contemplation and creativity.

Being kind to people and respecting our elders was expected even if we did not agree with them. Punishment for disrespect was as certain as punishment for breaking one of the Ten Commandments. I believed that with education and hard work I could do anything I wanted to do.

My dad and I were both animal lovers and our bonding time was spent riding horses accompanied by our dogs, on long, lazy days while discussing philosophical issues. My love for animals and philosophy made me realize how deeply I felt about the sacredness of all life. I embraced several Gandhi quotes including:

• “The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” 
• “The greatness of humanity is not in being human but in being humane,” 
• “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.”

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to help people and animals in need because those less fortunate, many times, do not have a voice and it is our obligation and responsibility to love and advocate for humanity. 

My father used humor much of the time, and I still gravitate to people who can diffuse situations by making me laugh. He taught me that everyone is valuable and that we should not look down on individuals or groups of people. Kindness is vital, and as I witness the current tensions in our country, I believe that if we collectively model kindness for our children, we will positively change the future of our world. I am not sure when the news stopped being truthful. I was taught in school that communists used propaganda to distort the truth as a way to control their citizens. I had no idea America would be condoning propaganda 50 years later. When President Reagan told Gorbachev to “tear down that wall”, I thought the world was safer again because freedom had won. Have we forgotten that using violence, intolerance, intimidation and fear tactics is not humane, but evil? We must be vigilant if we want to protect what is great about America.

In my lifelong quest to help people, my career has been to work with people with disabilities and to educate about the natural benefits of high-quality essential oils. Recently, the number of people sharing their feelings of anxiety and depression with me has skyrocketed because people feel less safe and more insecure. As a result of people being attacked for their opinions, they have stopped expressing them. Is that the kind of society we want to live in? What happened to our safe community where individuals were respected, and a very long history of southern hospitality encouraged good manners? Have we forgotten we are uniquely made and individually have something to offer? The recent election should have taught us that if nothing else, being quiet to avoid intolerance does not mean people do not have an opinion.

Recently, I have talked with concerned leaders of nonprofit agencies across Gwinnett County, and we envision something better for our community. Happiness and peace come when what we think, say and do align positively so that good works can be accomplished. This is how we can develop confident adults who will one day be benevolent leaders.

Gwinnett County is fortunate to have inspirational leadership, but it is not enough. The entire community must work together so that everyone can be safe and feel secure. I would love to hear from readers about their ideas to make our community kinder. It only takes a few of us to create massive change, and I have great faith in this community that I have spent a lifetime calling home. In recent weeks the people we serve at Creative Enterprises, Inc., started a campaign called “Creative Acts of Kindness.” I am humbled when I see a person with a severe disability helping someone in need, and I, fortunately, get to watch this happen every day. These beautiful people want to be part of something that changes lives and are willing to do their part. They also pass out “hero” cards to folks they catch being kind.

Lawrenceville and all of Gwinnett County has a long history of leading the way, setting an example and helping others in need. That is a legacy we can all choose to share with our children and those in need so they may one day reminisce about the great generation they came from.

Let’s bring civility to our communities by encouraging kindness and respect for all. We do not have to agree with everyone, but being kind will allow us the freedom we should feel as Americans to express our beliefs. We have an opportunity to create a future that produces caring and responsible adults, and in the process, we will be making history. Our freedom and our children’s future is at stake and will be determined by what each of us does today. In our own way, we can change the world. What will you choose to do?

Leigh McIntosh is the CEO of Creative Enterprises, a not for profit, training, and employment, community rehabilitation program for adults with severe disabilities. To learn more visit www.creativeenterprises.com