Monday, August 4, 2008

The Great Generation

A friend of mine … well, a cyber friend … at least I consider him such … wrote a blog about the fantasy of American Values, or as he put it “a bunch of hooey.” I always enjoy his blogs, if not always agree. In fact, I highly encourage you to read it. It’s located at To understand this posting of mine, you really need to digest his. Meaning, I am taking issue with my friend’s dismissal of The Great Generation and the values that made America great. Now, before we get going, what cannot be denied is the fact that there is always something in every era that is a tragedy, crime, gross misconduct or blind ignorance. And while these tragedies remain exactly that – each time and era must be taken as a whole to assess its value.

Here’s the rub though. I think its folly to focus on the trees in lieu of the forest. The Great Generation, or that time during and after World War II is, by and large, esteemed to be the greatest time in American values. By everyone and for everything? Well, nothing is ever “by everyone” and certainly minority rights were still in serious trouble. But with civil rights having come so far since then, I hope that most people can agree that behavior and manners (for lack of a better word) can certainly learn a thing or three from our predecessors of the 40s and 50s. I have a dream of rebuilding the values of that era. You know the ones. Where men greet each other with a smile and tip of the hat instead of a grim nod or a look of challenge in their eye. A time when women lunched politely instead of beating each other up on YouTube. A time when parties were soirees and not a beer funnel and a police raid.

These are the values I see sorely lacking in society. These are values that exist and need to be fostered. And we need to dismiss the notion that we get the good with the bad, insinuating with all our freedom we must put up with fearing for our lives when we go out at night. There is the hooey. We are all free to pursue life, liberty and happiness. When we step on the rights of others, that freedom’s leash is reached. And this is the gist of the problem I see today. Too many people are “free” to intimidate, threaten, cajole, etc. That is not a freedom one should enjoy and it exists, in part, due to the lack of boundaries we see today.

There is a book, The Happiness Hypothesis, that describes multiple studies where total freedom ends up being the exact opposite. Without putting you through the exercise of reading the whole book (although I highly recommend it), the studies can be summed up in the following example: Take any young child outside and say, “You are free to run anywhere you want.” Most kids, proven by research will be paralyzed by the vastness of that directive. If you say, “You can play anywhere within the front yard and back yard,” they run off happily and feeling safe as kittens. Boundaries are inherent in our psyche and when they are removed completely, shows like The Sons of Anarchy come on TV, and we can all agree – no one wants that.

So, what am I saying? I’m saying we have to have common values as a society that we can look to in our pursuit of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. We have to be decent men and women and we must learn how to be those things. They do not magically enter our heads. When we say things like, letting go of the past frees us to decide the future, it turns out to be nonsense, as we are the sum total of our parts. Some parts are ugly, some parts are beautiful, but they are all us. And if we fail to learn the lessons of the past, which is perhaps the good that can come out of bad situations, then we are doomed to relive them in the future.

Until next time

Stay Strong and Stay Heroes