I was deeply moved and saddened by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake’s retirement speech on the Senate floor just weeks ago as I realized that there were too many parallels easily drawn between the reasons for his retirement and the state of affairs in the communities of West Windsor and Plainsboro.

My family and I first moved to the Plainsboro community in October 1999 and then moved to West Windsor in June 2000. At that time we had only our 3-year-old son, but have since been blessed with four more children all of which have attended the schools in West Windsor and Plainsboro.

We chose to come to this community 18 years ago when my husband was offered a job in New Brunswick because we believed it would be the best place to raise our family. We have spent countless hours volunteering and participating in excellent schools, and outstanding community programs and events with a deep sense of gratitude for the unparalleled opportunities afforded our family as a result of living in this area.

Until recently our beliefs have held true. So why don’t we just leave? Because we have made our home and raised our family here, and we believe in these great communities and all that we have to offer one another. Yet we have found ourselves questioning the dishonesty, divisive actions and destructive discourse some in the community would have us believe is normal, acceptable and a matter of individual right. It is not.

As Flake observes, we were not made great as a country, nor were we made great as a community, “by indulging or exalting our worst impulses, turning against ourselves, glorifying in the things that divide us, or in calling fake things true and true things fake.” I echo his exhortation that we must not let the current state of disunion, destructiveness and coarse dialogue define our communities.

Flake warns, “We must never regard the casual undermining of our elected leaders, beliefs, ideals, and values as normal….We cannot stand aside and meekly accept the daily sundering of our [country] communities.” Nor may I add can we continue with personal attacks, threats against principles, and disregard for honesty, truth and decency. As Flake correctly points out, “such reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior does not project strength rather it projects a corruption of spirit and weakness.”

My children, your children, our children, the next generation of leaders, those that will inherit our communities, desperately need and deserve better.

The senator outlined in his speech some of the indispensable values upon which our country, a beacon of freedom and its institutions were founded. It is these same values that have made and will continue to make our communities great. I believe they deserve to be defended and are worthy of our best efforts to instill in the next generation.

We must first model and then teach that character counts, assume the best of our fellow man (or woman), and always look for the good. We must first exemplify humility then teach what it means to be humble in the face of difficult and uncomfortable circumstances. We must first be exemplary leaders by disavowing dishonesty, and self-interest and then teach our children not only what it means to be honest, and charitable, but the value of doing hard things for the greater good even in the absence of recognition or praise.

As Flake observed, “our strength comes from our values, when we are our most principled and most tolerant of one another.” We must teach our children by example that “E pluribus unum” means “from many, one.”

We must let the next generation not only hear us, but see us as individuals and communities united in our efforts to provide excellent schools, community services, programs, and opportunities from which all can benefit. I commend Sen. Flake’s speech as worthwhile reading, re-reading, discussion and action.

If we refuse to learn from the wisdom born of his experience, or from the wisdom of those that founded our country and communities then the great communities we have become are doomed to suffer the consequences of our unwillingness to do so.

— Heather Nielsen, West Windsor