Did the Me Decade 80s narcissism issue the entire United States a death blow we didn't feel and failed to treat?
I've been listening to the news on the radio to and from work these past few days and each day I feel more and more disheartened. The two most uplifting stories I've heard in the past week were one on the changing face of Egyptian popular music since the change in their regime and the one about the bipartisan Everyman grassroots movement called Occupy Wallstreet growing larger.
The rest of the news has been about how group X wants door number 1 and group Y wants door number 2 and no one's going anywhere while they sit and argue about it. Compromise? Teamwork? The Greater Good? Unheard of. Not discussed. Not even considered.
NPR did a retrospective yesterday because it happened to be the 64th anniversary of the first televised Presidential address to our country. The president at the time was Harry Truman. And do you know what the topic of that momentous address was? It was food.
Or rather, it was a plea from the President of the United States for all Americans to exert self-control and eat less during the week so that we, a nation blessed with abundance, could help Western Europe survive the winter and spring of that year. Western Europe, you see, had nothing to sustain them for the fallow seasons because they'd been occupied by war and weren't concerned with harvests and canning and preserving.
President Harry Truman said it was our duty as Americans to do what we could do to help Western Europe and he outlined what would now be considered simplistic measures to cut down on our weekly comestibles consumption. Not eating meat one day a week. Not eating poultry and eggs another. Having one less piece of bread with every dinner. Having restaurants only serve bread and butter upon request.
I expect that these days, most people would say "Let 'em starve!" and worse, considering what I've seen in the comments below some of the most benign and/or heart-wrenching stories on the Internet.
We have some of the most talented, most able, most creative, most driven people in the world here in the United States, capable of solving so many of the world's ills, capable of elevating us all to such great heights.... What do we do instead? We draw lines in the sand and argue about ridiculous things. We watch "reality" television, not caring that it represents no one's reality. We denigrate one another, both anonymously and publicly, expending more time humiliating and besting one another than working together.
This country is fractured. Broken. Almost shattered.
The politicians are so out of touch with their own constituency that there are actually people out there who are fighting for the right to steal from their own citizenry. The government is so out of touch with reality that they've declared corporations to be equal to individuals, selling our country to the highest bidder. The holders of the most capital are so out of touch with reality that they pay their CEOs and CFOs huge bonuses in the times of bailouts and economic collapse and unemployment so massive as to be practically outside our historical frame of reference.
I heard one very angry man say, very seriously, that it was not the responsibility of corporations to work for the good of the country. It was their responsibility to work for the good of their owners, their shareholders, their employees, and their customers! He was so indignant about it, taking offense that the interviewer would suggest that any corporation had any responsibility toward assisting in job creation. And yet, who are these owners, these shareholders, these employees, and these customers if they are not also citizens of this country?
I work in administration in a large University. For 23 years, I have worked in either customer service or administration and one thing is constantly repeated to those of us in these positions: "Everyone is your customer!" Meaning, every single person that you work with should be treated the exact same way as you would treat a paying customer, whether that person sits in the cubicle next to you, answers your call in the department down the hall, or empties your trash can at the end of the day. You work for every single person you work with.
Why is it so hard for all of us to remember this? What are we really fighting about, anyway?
Nothing. What we're doing--collectively--is taking our own hard luck out on those people around us, aiming first for those who are the most different, the weakest, or the ones least likely to fight back. Basically, the entire United States has become infected by bullyism.
No wonder bullies are running rampant in our schools; they're running rampant in our culture!
I don't understand it, either. The same people who claim to be the most devout, the most honorable Christians cheer when the Governor of Texas states that he's proud of his record of presiding over the most state-sanctioned deaths via lethal injection. They jeer when an honorable soldier who has done nothing but fight for this country and represent it with honor and integrity comes out publicly as a gay man. These same people decry spending "their" money to assist those who are worse off in some way, saying, essentially, "I got mine, now you get yours!"
These are not Christian attitudes. According to the New Testament--so named because it was supposed to be the new theology--there are two rules: Love God and love one another as God has loved you. There are no exceptions to that "one another" part. It does not say "Love one another--except for the poorer ones, or the ones who are a different color, or the gay ones, or the fat ones, or the female ones, or the disabled ones, or the ones from a different political party, or the ones of a different ethnic or national background, or the ones that follow another religion--as I have loved you." It doesn't say that. Not in any translation, not by any stretch of anyone's imagination.
"Love one another as I have loved you." In essence, a repetition of something said elsewhere in the Bible: "You are your brother's keeper."
So what's wrong with us? How did we, as a nation, go from being that up and coming young kid with all the great ideas--the one voted most likely to do the most for the world--how did we go from that to being the village bully and the village idiot all rolled into one?
Right now, right this very second, we are SQUANDERING our history, our reputation, our potential and our future--all at the same time!
Why are we standing up for what we have or what we perceive we are or what we think is owed to us? Why AREN'T we standing up for one another?
We are still ONE nation no matter how much we fight about God, or liberty, or justice for all and what that means.
We'd better start acting like it, too, because if there is one thing that has played out over and over and over throughout history, it is the fall of nations divided internally.
Is that what we want?
That's not what I want.
I want to elevate others, I want to help people out when I can, and I want others to offer to help me when I need it. I want to be considered equally valuable under the law by my fellow citizens even though I may be different from them. I want us to work together to solve our problems so that we can work together to be the great nation we once were.
Because, let's face it, we're NOT great right now. We're not even close.
But we can be. We can be great again.
Every day is a new day for every single one of us to start over again.
Let's not wait until those days go away before we recognize our legacy.
We have a choice. We can play "Whoever has the most toys wins" or we can play "the three-legged race." Sure, the three-legged race is awkward, it's messy, it's difficult, but if it's done right, it's fun and funny and everyone gets over the finish line.
That's the United States I want; the one where everyone gets over the finish line.
Erin M. Hoagland
Part of the 99%