Saturday, May 5, 2018
“If you want any one thing too badly, it's likely to turn out to be a disappointment.” – Gus McCrae, from Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
I’m an old guy. Old enough to remember my family telling stories of the real old days. Old enough to have heard first-hand stories from family members about the dust bowl and the depression. Old enough to have had a father and uncles who fought in WWII. Old enough to remember how we lived without central heat and air, or more than one bathroom, or color TV (much less 200 channels), or cell phones, or the internet, or hip and knee replacements. Old enough to remember when divorce was rare and few children were born out of wedlock. I grew up in a time where kids were free to wander all over the place until after dark and neighbors knew who you were. Experienced the cultural revolution of the 60’s & 70’s, the “greed is good” era of the 80’s and 90’s and now the digital age and the battle for social justice and equality.
So I have lived some life and gained a bit of perspective. And I have learned. Mostly learned the hard way by making bad choices and suffering the consequences. What I have learned is that life often comes down to choices between Commitment and Responsibility versus Freedom and Happiness. Most of the pain in my life has resulted from decisions to pursue Freedom and Happiness at the expense of Commitment and Responsibility.
I think it’s fair to say that since the end of WWII, our country has pretty much gone down that same path. Where Freedom and Happiness too often take precedence over Commitment and Responsibility, societies breakdown. Certainly the desire for Freedom and Happiness has been a positive factor in the advance of civilization. Fire, the wheel, the remote control, Viagra…all in the pursuit of Freedom and Happiness. So Freedom and Happiness are not bad things.
America itself was born out of an innate human desire for Freedom and Happiness. And when Freedom and Happiness are balanced with Commitment and Responsibility, the outcomes tend to be very positive. Are they perfect? Of course not. We can all point to abuses and oppression thrust upon groups of people under the guise of Commitment and Responsibility. There just has to be a balance.
Today, in America, the pendulum has swung way too far in the direction of Freedom and Happiness. Forsake Commitment and Responsibility for Freedom and Happiness and you end up with too many divorces, too many children born out of wedlock or raised by single parents, or a relative or a stranger. Make Freedom and Happiness a priority in education and you end up with a lot of people unprepared to live or make a living on their own. Make Freedom and Happiness a priority and those in power pass laws and establish policies to benefit those in power and those whom they need on their side in order to remain in power. Make Freedom and Happiness a priority and the rich will get richer until the poor have had enough. (And we are getting there, if not there already). Make Freedom and Happiness a priority and you will vote for Hope and Change or to Make America Great Again even if the person you’re voting for is unqualified.
My sense is that we are close to a tipping point. While Millennials are often criticized for being spoiled and pampered or too wrapped up in social justice causes, I think a lot of them have learned from the mistakes of their parents and grandparents. Maybe buying all of the house you can afford, isn’t such a good idea. Maybe putting your career ahead of your family isn’t the best life strategy. Perhaps spending a Saturday on a community service project instead of on the golf course will make you and your community better. Some are going back to church or at least thinking about it. Some of them are even listening to us old guys who have made the mistake of pursuing Happiness and Freedom at the expense of Commitment and Responsibility.
“If you fulfill your obligations everyday you don't need to worry about the future.”
― Jordan B. Peterson