I wonder what would have happened if the Mormon pioneers, in their struggle to come west, had not looked after each other.

We can read of the countless acts of kindness and bravery Americans have always shown in time of need. People, such as my parents and other Utahns, fed, clothed and even housed those in need during the depression. Living next to the railroad tracks, my mother always had a stack of tortillas and a pot of beans cooking on the wood-burning stove. She knew “tramps” would soon be knocking at our door asking for food. They said they would chop wood or gather coal for something to eat. She fed them, asking for nothing. She had no means test.

When foreign countries attacked America, triggering WWII, men and women quickly volunteered to go to war. They left their jobs and farms to defend our country. Americans sacrificed for the good of our country. They helped their neighbors whose loved ones had gone to war. And when our president asked us to accept rationing of gas, clothes and food, Americans were eager to do so. Women gave up their nylon hosiery so parachutes could be made.

We were taught the values of sharing and looking after each other in our places of worship, homes and schools. As kids, we were taught to share. And as our society got more complex and sophisticated, we created institutions, both public and private — churches, community groups and public programs — to help those among us in time of need. They became a way of expressing our values of looking after each other and caring for those in need in a more fast-paced and impersonal world.

Our nation did what all societies do to exist: embrace a common set of values that hold it together; history has shown those that don’t, eventually vanish. I worry where our society is in the spectrum of history when we seem to be losing those values that held us together in the past. Now, I wonder if today we would be willing to share, sacrifice and look after one another as past generations have done.

What’s happening to us? Where’s the empathy and compassion today? If a man were drowning, would some one throw him a life line, or would the response be that he made a choice to go in the water, and so do nothing. Today, we have thousands of Utahns who are suffering, dying, for lack of health care, of which two-thirds are working but cannot afford health care. Some lawmakers refuse to support the governor’s effort in obtaining available federal money to help with health care for those in need. They say they can’t trust the federal government, yet quick to take money for highways and land development that seems to be in their self-interest. They are the same ones that will tell us they live the values they learned at home.

Giving and sharing for the common welfare has always been what Americans do, and is even embedded in the preamble of our nation’s Constitution, “promote the general welfare.” One of the challenges every society faces is how we deal with change, and keep our common values. If we are to thrive as a society, we must remember that it is the common values that hold it together. What will we tell the next generation when they ask, “What happened to us?”

Utah native John Florez served on the U.S. Senate Labor Committee, as Utah industrial commissioner and filled White House appointments, including deputy assistant secretary of labor and on the Commission on Hispanic Education. Email: jdflorez@comcast.net