My father was born a scant few years before the Great Depression.
That is to say, he grew up and became conscious of life during the great suffering, lack and loss of the Great Depression. Upon graduating High School in 1942, he went right down to his local Service Center and enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He spent the next eight years there, serving in WW II and the start of the Korean War.
He came home and worked briefly in a bank, where he met my Mom, then promptly took the entrance exam for the Fire Department in New York City and began that career with unbounded gratitude – for the City that raised him, for a job that gave him an opportunity to “go as far as his ambition and test-taking abilities would take…an opportunity his own father never had.
My father rose up steadily through virtually all the ranks in the FDNY and even as a Chief, even as the Asst. Borough Commander of Manhattan, whenever someone would ask him what he did, he’d simply answer, “I’m a fireman.”
My Dad worked in very busy firehouses through “the riot years” (1966 -1979), often referred to as New York City’s “Firestorm,” a time when fully ONE-THIRD (1/3) of New York City’s housing stock burned to the ground. He’d received numerous citations, NONE of which ever adorned his Class-A (dress) uniform. My father was a man of impeccable humility, it was his primary and most cherished virtue.
I give that brief background to explain why as I grew up I felt an increasingly perplexing (unexplainable?) difference between my father and I.
Sure, he could do more things, he was more self-reliant, but he was “an adult,” and I was at first…“just a kid,” and later on, “part of a generation that simply didn’t need that kind of self-reliance.”
But that difference didn’t diminish as I grew up, it only became more and more obvious and it wasn’t merely a matter of him “knowing different” things, it was an attitude, it was an essence.
He had a deeply ingrained humility, and that held despite his having accomplished many of the things he had, I had none.
He had gratitude and felt he owed the City of New York for providing the career that helped him provide his and his family’s sustenance – like many of my generation, I felt none of that…if anything, I felt the City owed me something. And like many others in my generation, I never even thought to ask, “For WHAT?!”
He expected little from others and laughed to himself when others didn’t live up to his own standards, or when such folks thought that THEY were somehow “getting over.” I, on the other hand, like most “liberal do-gooders,” very much expected others to live up to my own arbitrary and capricious standards (ones I rarely lived up to myself) or they were immediately labeled “bad people.”
But it wasn’t merely that I was a young idealistic, “do-gooding” Liberal (that’s exactly what I was back then), it was more, far more than that.
When Tom Brokaw wrote The Greatest Generation, he told, in my view, an important PART of the story, but his focus seems both too short and it leaves out the primary reason why that generation, in my view at least was instead, “The LAST Great Generation.”
I am convinced that virtually EVERY generation previous would’ve risen to the same occasion, some perhaps even more fiercely. See, my mother’s grandfather was, if anything, even more self-reliant than my Dad.
Affluence is a cancer…a soft doughy nugget that grows and expands, ultimately infecting and corrupting everything around it. It BECOMES the essence of the one who holds it.
The soft, affluent man can’t imagine hardship any more. He can’t even imagine harming another, or why someone else would want to deliberately harm him…as though he’d forgotten the very way of the world.
Because of the enormous amount of accrued affluence created by earlier generations, we are a weaker generation than our father’s was, just as they were a weaker generation than the one that came before…and so on.
That is the entropy of affluence.
The horror of confronting our own inner weakness directly is so great that we find many looking for others to blame for the problems we’ve all helped to create.
Indeed it’s all too often too tempting to resist envisioning some omnipotent “THEM,” controlling everything and victimizing all of “US.”
Sadly, I don’t believe that to be the case.
I firmly believe that if we were to find that curtain to look behind that would reveal this “THEM”….behind that curtain would lie a giant mirror, for it US…ALL of us, who are at fault.
It is WE (that is, US) who are the reason politicians lie – we virtually demand that they do. No one wants to hear the truth, that we’re spending too much and unsustainably on programs that we were never able to afford. Sure, not all of us, but certainly MOST of us, as every election pretty much makes clear. We constantly demand more stuff at no cost to us. We take issue with each other’s “boondoggles” – farmers revile inner city welfare cheats, urbanites revile government subsidized farmers, workers revile “corporate welfare” recipients and private sector workers revile fattened government workers. We ALL demand OUR “free stuff” and begrudge others theirs.
The pigs are US, not the weak-willed, sniveling politicians who’ll do anything just to remain in office…not the greedy self-centered businessmen, stocks and bond traders or commodities speculators, we are, for the most part just as self-centered and greedy as any of “THEM.”
It’s hard to blame ourselves, but to move forward I think we all (or at least most of us) have to come to do just that – accept our own culpability for everything that befalls us.
So what’s the answer?
The answer, plain and simple is to refocus ourselves on what this nation’s Founders were focused on – the INDIVIDUAL. We need to STOP blaming others and look at ourselves. We need to first perfect ourselves before offering any assistance or advice to anyone else. Too often we are tempted to look OUTSIDE ourselves and seek to improve, perfect and control others. That’s a wrong turn;
The first law of a self-responsible worldview is FIRST, PERFECT YOURSELF.
The 2nd law is PERFECT YOURSELF…and the 3rd law is PERFECT YOURSELF.
How do we perfect ourselves?
Dedicate ourselves to learning more and making ourselves more valuable in today’s economy.
Work on improving ourselves WITHOUT worrying, or even much caring about “what the other guy does.”
Accept that we can’t control, let alone improve others, we can only control and improve ourselves…at least that’s a start.