All American Generations of Thoughts
Today America is growing and changing with incredible velocity. It is one nation, but it is also many nations – A Rainbow Land, and certainly, we have problems. The most embracing of them all is how to master and utilize our own inherent power, our own giant and abundant forces to make a free, just, productive, and happy life for all.
After interviewing individuals from different generations about their thoughts on this country, its society and the “All American Dream”, I found that the generations have many similarities and differences in their values, beliefs, and perceptions of the world. When I asked a twenty-one year old male to define success and the characteristics of a successful person, I received a response quite different from the responses of a forty-seven year old woman, and a seventy year old man. He defined success as surpassing your peers in all aspects of your life – academics, fitness, financial status, etc.(i.e. knowing that you have achieved a certain level of excellence, but not being content with that). A successful person will continue to improve himself, and will only associate with other people attaining similar goals. He will not associate with people who accept mediocrity. On the other hand, the forty-seven year old woman and seventy-year old male did not compare themselves to their peers when defining success. They see life as a journey of self improvement and a competition against oneself. The woman defined success as knowing that you are the best person that you can be. Her success was being able to get up in the morning, look herself in the mirror, and know that she did her best (i.e. feeling satisfied with herself). She viewed a successful person as being independent, and someone whose opinion is respected. Respect is the ultimate currency. It’s not worth it to steal from a man who trades his away for a few dollars, and then tries to wash away the guilt – drowning it in a lifetime of good deeds and a sea of respectability. The further you run from your evil acts, the more exhausted you are when they catch up to you – and they always do. The similar response of the older man was that success is going to bed at night and not having to worry about the next day. Success requires one to be financially stable and healthy. His definition of a successful person is an optimistic, happy, and confident individual.
Continuing on with the interviews, I found similarities and differences in the opinions of the U.S. society today. Words such as selfish, self-indulgent, materialistic, superficial, emotionally detached, decadent, and hedonistic were used among the three generations to describe today’s society. “So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re changing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” (Morrie Schwartz, in “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom). In addition, “We currently have a built-in allergy to unpleasant or disturbing information. Our mass media reflect this.” We need to, “get up off our fat surpluses and recognize that television in the main stream is being used to distract, delude, amuse and insulate us. Let us dream to the extent of saying that on a given Sunday night the time normally occupied by Ed Sullivan is given over to a clinical survey of the state of American education, and a week or two later the time normally used by Steve Allen is devoted to a thoroughgoing study of American policy in the Middle East.” (Good Night and Good Luck, 2005)
The twenty-one year old brought up the point that people want everything right now, instead of planning for the future, which relates to the forty-seven year olds view that people are always looking for a “quick fix”, as easy way out, in the sense that people don’t want to work for anything. The twenty-one year olds perceptions of young people was that they are not as smart as they used to be, due to poor education systems. The forty-seven year old had a different opinion. She believed that there are a lot of angry and confused children today, which a good portion comes from being emotionally neglected by their parents. She also views a lot of youth today as having low self-esteem, due to the fact that they really don’t feel important. This leads to their destructive habits, need to be popular, use of drugs and alcohol, and self indulgence. The seventy-year old viewed youth as being spoiled, lazy disrespectful, inconsiderate, and inappreciative of what they have and the freedoms they enjoy. All three generations felt that a lot of older people are neglected and lonely, because there is such a focus on youth and beauty in our society – “older people are treated as being useless,” said the seventy-year old.
Another similarity among the three generations was found in their opinions of the relationships between the U.S. and the rest of the world, which they felt are strained due to resentment. “Other countries recognize us a world power, and take advantage of it”, said the twenty-one year old. The forty-seven year old stated that “The United States is the sugar daddy to the rest of the world, giving monetary gifts for favors, whether it is for trade, military, or political support.”
Lastly, there was a contrast of changes that have taken place is the U.S. and around the world that satisfy and anger all three generations. Frustrated statements, such as, “We help everyone else, and we don’t take care of ourselves,” were made by the twenty-one and forty-seven year olds. “As a nation we have come into our full inheritance at a tender age. We proclaim ourselves as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom wherever it still exists in the world, but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting at home.” The forty-seven year old also mentioned that she is frustrated with the economic shift from an industrial country to a technology country, because people are not being schooled to be able to work in a technologically advanced society. “Our right to privacy is also diminishing,” she said. “Must a nation that is one of the strongest in the world demand, for its own further strength and security, a sacrifice by its own citizens of their ancient liberties? This problem haunts the work of all our courts these days. But the constitution exists for the individual, as well as the nation. I believe it will prove itself adequate to this challenge.” (pg. 213, Days to Remember)
Much like the responses of the twenty-one and forty-seven year old to the questions on our nation’s world relations, the seventy-year old is frustrated with the fact that people from other countries are coming here and setting up businesses that are tax free. “People in our country should be getting that!,” he said. On the other hand, he was satisfied with the fact that the elderly are now provided with better medicare and more services, such as transportation, visiting nurses, and “Meals on Wheels”. The forty-seven year old agreed that she too is satisfied with this change, and she is also content with the fact that we as a society now know that we are vulnerable as we always were to terrorist attacks. She believes that heightened security is good. After all, the U.S. is not the “The Neverland” that everyone thought it was.
From the observations made among the three different generations values, beliefs, and perceptions of the world, we can conclude that the aspirations of an individual changes as he or she gets older, which seems evident from the differences among each generations’ definition of success. Then again, these differences may be due to personal characteristics or family values.
It is clear that our family values are changing. Today, people are not as family oriented as they used to be, and it seems as though the youth of our society is suffering the consequences. However, the elderly in our society are not being treated better, but they are still looked down upon in many ways.
Tradition also largely influences the way people behave and think. The reason for this is that traditional morals and ideas have been accepted for such a long period of time that they are simply perceived as being correct. These behaviors and ideas are very hard to change, perhaps the hardest, because they are so deep in the psyche. An example of this would be the women’s rights movement. For thousands of years, it was generally accepted that women were put on this earth for one thing – to be used by men, either as wives (slaves) or whores. Women accepted this without question, and the few who were brave enough to rebel were punished for it. For the most part, it remained that way until the 1830’s, when someone realized that this oppression of women was wrong. They then needed to convince the majority of the population that it was wrong. That must have been a very difficult task. Imagine that, trying to convince men to share their exclusive power with women, and trying to encourage women, who were “scared” or afraid, to support the cause. Impossible as it seems, someone was able to change the way people thought, and they convinced society that reform was needed. The majority of society accepted the idea, and the women’s rights movement was under way. The oppression of African-Americans in this country is another example of traditional behavior, and our society has long been struggling to correct that situation. Around 1954, The South, which is known as the “problem child of the nation” because of its poverty, underwent an industrial revolution, and there seemed to be at least a fair chance that, as it got richer, racial pressures would become less harassing and acute. It is only where a moral problem of a society is challenged that change can occur, and there needs to be a very good reason to change traditional morals. It takes a lot of courage to take on that type of challenge, but it is possible. People need to start focusing on the big picture, and not just themselves. Together, we can make a difference.