Once upon a time: Part One

Sometimes it seems like a fairy tale when I talk about how things used to be. You see, I grew up in the late 50’s and 60’s at a time much different than today. There are a lot of things I miss from those days. Certainly, we have advantages today that were only scientific fantasy back then. But I do look back some days and wish that we could have kept some of those best things from back then.

I’m not sure when or why things changed. Did our society take a negative turn because of the assassinations and Viet Nam War back then? Did the internet change the course of our society? Or was it something else?

Today, I would like to talk about some of these things that I miss from back then. Perhaps this list will take you back in time, as well. The big question is how do we regain some of the good from those days? Is it even possible? Let’s look at the first seven items on my list. After I’ve had the chance to discuss all the items, I’ll offer my views on what we can do, individually and collectively, to regain the best of yesteryear… if it is not too late.

Once upon a time, there was…

  1. Resilience during difficult times – Perhaps it is because so many of us have never had to deal with extreme adversity, but too few individuals today are willing (or able) to persevere through challenging times. Let me provide an example… The pandemic has been severe with many bad impacts. However, how can we explain why these times are called the “great resignation?” Millions of individuals have dropped out of the workplace because they find it too difficult to commit to a 40-hour week, they simply do not want to stop working from home, or they find idleness too great a temptation. Why are mental health issues so prevalent today? Is it because there are more issues or because adversity is too much to handle? Individuals that have endured war, depressions, adversity… and survived, exhibit a “grit” that is rarely seen by individuals today when even a sideway glance can be viewed as harassment or a critical slight.
  2. Patience – Clearly, individuals in society today are less patient than in times past. In my former corporate role, our group hired many degreed individuals with 1-2 years of experience post-college. In many cases, these individuals after only a few months complained that they had not been promoted yet. One individual once said to me, “I’ve been here for over 6 months and have done everything you asked me to do. What does it take to get promoted around here? Maybe I need to leave and find a place that appreciates me more.” This individual didn’t understand the concept of growing and learning before assuming greater responsibility. Most of the individuals in my generation (I am 65+) probably received on average 5-7 promotions in their entire careers. That would be one every 6 years or so. Yet today, if an individual isn’t promoted within their first year, they view their career as a failure or the company as a bad employer. Immediate gratification has replaced long-term commitment.
  3. Willingness to “earn it” (versus sense of entitlement) – Similarly, there is a strong belief today that you should get simply because you exist. “I have a degree, so I have ‘earned’ a great salary and title.” Or “I am entitled to a house as nice as my parents’ house.” A sense of entitlement has replaced the concept of earning it. Perhaps this began when society started believing that competition is bad and participation is all that matters. Too many individuals are not willing to make the sacrifice of time, effort, or risk required to earn the benefits of life and work. I recall when you had to save 10% of the total cost of a house before a bank would provide a mortgage. You had to “earn” the right to purchase a house by sacrificing upfront. There is much more a feeling of “I deserve” rather than “I earned” today compared to years ago.
  4. Freedom of thought (and the drive to fight for it) – I remember going to the barbershop as a kid. It seems there were always 4-5 older men waiting in the shop, but it seems I never had to wait when I went to get my haircut. The guys would just sit and talk. However, I remember that they didn’t always agree with each other. In fact, I recall that they rarely agreed. However, they came back, day after day, just to sit and argue about the state of the world. I don’t think that could happen today. The minute a disagreement arises, someone leaves. There is no room for civil disagreement and discussion. You are either “for me or against me… nothing in the middle.” Also, it seems that few individuals today will fight for their say. You either quietly disagree and move on or capitulate. Someone recently recounted for me a conversation they had when they asked and individual whether he leaned toward Democrat or Republican in his views. His answer was, “It depends on who I am with at the time.” I long for the day when individuals were not afraid to speak their mind and would freely do so… with the result that we were all better as a result!
  5. Patriotism – When did it become politically incorrect to be a patriot? How could that even happen? I remember celebrating the July 4th holiday as a kid. It was possibly my favorite holiday of the year! We had a carnival in the park, an all-star baseball game with our rival neighboring town, and the best fireworks in the area. In between, we had a patriotic program in the bandshell where veterans were celebrated, the grand old marches were played by the band, and we were proud to be Americans. Sure, there are celebrations like that today, but more often, our elected politicians denounce our nation, its founding, and what our flag stands for. I’m reminded that “united we stand, divided we fall.” Which direction are we headed today?
  6. Affirmations of standards of behavior – When did it become a “problem” to hold individuals accountable for their behavior? I’m not really talking about those things that are in the gray areas, but standards of behavior that are clearly black or white. It seems today that it is OK to ignore the law or rules or basic decency unless the violation is especially onerous… or at least when they cross the lines of current progressive ideals. For example, it is now OK to loot, steal, and rob for the sake of equity. It is OK to lie simply because it benefits you. It is OK to cheat on your spouse or business partner or friend because “everyone else does it.” During the mid-20th century, standards of behavior were clear and to cross those lines was considered a serious offense to society. In many ways, it seems as though we are back in the old west where whoever has the biggest weapon makes the rules. Why is it so hard to stay within the standards of behavior that define a civilized society?
  7. Willingness to submit – In my working life, I observed and monitored the performance of literally thousands of individuals. There exists a small percentage of individuals that seem to have great difficulty keeping a job, staying in the workplace, or functioning successfully in this environment in which you are expected to do your job. In the vast majority of these cases, I have found that the individual has great difficulty submitting to authority. When you cannot accept or submit to a boss or leader or standard of expectation, it becomes nearly impossible to succeed. Think about the individuals you know that move from one job to another to another. Why is it that they cannot be content and successful? I think you’ll find that the single biggest reason is that they “had problems with their boss or expectations of the boss.” Perhaps this can happen occasionally, but when this becomes the theme of a career, you can bet that the root cause is an inability to submit to authority… an unwillingness to submit to the decisions made by someone else. Society has developed a problem with submission, as well. I’m not talking about blindly submitting to the whims of government, though we have all experienced that during the Covid-19 pandemic. I’m talking about an individual choice to do what’s best even when it may not be the best for me. I mean that willingness to set aside my own desires, pleasures, and wishes to serve another. However, I am hopeful. During the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022, there have been hundreds of cases of Ukrainian individuals submitting their own desires for a greater purpose. It is my hope that this represents today’s society more than the selfishness that seems so prevalent.

In coming posts, I’ll discuss several other things I miss from the past. These include:

  • Appreciation for excellence (versus expediency)
  • Sense of hope
  • Honesty/Truth
  • Willingness to sacrifice
  • Common sense
  • Contentment
  • Choosing to do what is right
  • Doing things that matter
  • Hard work
  • Basic kindness
  • Experiencing and expressing joy
  • Gratitude
  • Sense of commitment
  • Belief in God

More to come…. Have a great day and if you would add other items to this list, send them my way. I’ll be glad to add them and provide my perspective in coming posts.