You know, this used to be a helluva good country. I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it. – George Hanson in Easy Rider
There’s a lot that seems backwards to me today. Or maybe upside down. Upside down and backwards. I know I only crested the summit a few weeks ago, but I swear this is not a case of “back in my day”. I don’t think things have been right side up and straightforward for a while now. So it may be a case of “longing for days I never knew” if anything. But I don’t think that’s it either – read on and you tell me.
Take for example the things we do today to be “nice”. So that we are “nice” we give some people everything they need to live. Their home, their food, their car. It does sound nice doesn’t it? And for a time, when someone really needs it, it is. If we do it for too long though, it becomes a way of life. A trap. Although we give them everything they need to live, we strip away their reason for living – their purpose, their drive, their motivation. Even those not caught in this trap are seriously impacted: they get the bill and as a result they have less of what they work for to pursue their purpose, drives and motivations. What sounds nice really isn’t very nice if you look deeper. But putting the burden of providing on the nameless / faceless government is a lot easier than asking someone you know for help. And it’s just as true that rendering unto Caesar is easier than working with someone directly who needs your help. It’s way easier to pay or get paid by someone else.
Another example is what we do today to be “safe”. We pass laws against things that scare us as if simply by wishing we can make the bogey go away. And while we wish the imaginary thing under our beds into non-existence, we ignore the real problem staring back at us in the mirror each day. As long as we are alive we aren’t safe. Bad things happen and their is evil in the the hearts of all men (and a few women). Combine those two and it means that no matter how safe a new law may make us feel, the reality is that law’s can only do so much (especially when we are seriously lacking in law enforcement resources) and in many situations we will be on our own. Passing a law that keeps me from getting the the tools I know can help keep me safe because it makes you have the perception of increased safety, in reality makes both you and I less safe. But passing a law is easier than admitting that each day may be our last and that we have a choice to respond to violence with violence or let it happen to us – either is a valid choice, but one we choose not to make. It’s way easier to pass a law.
And then there is what we do that we call being “fair”. In order to be fair, there are high achieving high school students who won’t get an awards banquet this year because it isn’t fair for those students that didn’t do as well. Under the banner of fairness we don’t keep score in soccer, we mainstream students with learning disabilities (which to be clear isn’t fair to any of the students in the combined class) and we implement zero tolerance policies. Somewhere along the way, fair started to mean even. Equal opportunity came to mean equal outcomes. And we started to believe the fairy tale that everyone has equal talents – which if you have ever seen me play volleyball with my daughter, you would know is one of the biggest lies ever told (she makes me look like David Rappaport up against Misty May). Again, this was the easy way out – think of all the difficult conversations we can avoid if we can tell everyone that
no one everyone is special. What gets missed in all this is what that great villain Syndrome from The Incredibles knew – “when everyone’s super…no one will be”. It’s way easier to pretend everyone is the same.
I could go on. What we do in the name of “tolerance” (shout anyone down with different views). Or what we do in the name of “liberty” (tell people what they can’t do). But I think you get the point.
I am not going to pretend to be wise enough to know why all this has happened. But I do know that we’re not nicer, safer or fairer than we were years or decades ago. Why not? Because the reality of being nice means we sometimes have to do hard things. The reality of being safe means we have to do hard things. The reality of being fair means we have to do hard things. And we’ve made the easy choices – we don’t like hard. And that’s what has to change.
So what to do? It’s up to each of us. I have to stop looking to others to do the hard things and do them ourselves. I have to recognize the easy now isn’t easy for ever. I have to have a clear picture of where I want to get, a map that describes the course from here to there and a compass to tell me where I am – and when I get off course. And I have to have faith/hope/belief that enough of the rest of you will do the same. It doesn’t have to be my destination, my map or my compass. But we all have to own our own or else we’ll continue on the easy path.
I hope this is something we can fix. I hope that we haven’t become so accustomed to the easy life. I hope that we can still do hard things. If not, the future may not be so easy.
History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up. – Voltaire