Saturday, November 27, 2010

Achieving More Than Mediocrity

            I read a lot of books.  While I read, I need noise, so I usually turn on the TV.  I don’t really watch or even listen.  I just need the company, especially when I’m alone.  During the long Thanksgiving holiday, I was rooting around the TV for something to keep me company while I read another Greg Iles book, Footprints of God.  Nothing looked very interesting, so I selected a documentary on Capitalism by Michael Moore and settled in to read.  I peeked up to see what was happening and was pulled into the scene.
            Three older men and a younger woman, all white, were video taping themselves as seven police cars approached their modest home and proceeded to bash their door in and forcibly remove them.  Then it cut to another scene where a black man and woman protested while a stranger boarded up their modest home.  In both cases, the evicted homeowners railed at the invaders, screaming that they had no right, that they had no heart. 
            I realized that in both cases, the homeowners had fallen behind in their mortgage payments and the banks were foreclosing.  While I felt badly for them, it kind of pissed me off, too, because it symbolized everything that is wrong with our country.  Too many Americans want something for nothing.  Too many feel entitled.  I wondered why this could be so.  Why did they think they should be granted a home for which they refuse to pay?  Quite simply put, it’s all a case of trying to keep up with the Joneses.  Because they want to appear to be successful.  Because they place their own value on what they possess.
            Now Michael Moore wants us all to believe that these poor people were the victims of corporate greed, which I do not disagree with entirely.  I know that the banks were not forthright in disclosing everything they should have, that they granted loans to those who had no place expecting one, but these people wanted to have a something which they could not afford, yet felt entitled to, nonetheless.  I won’t go into the Democrats creed about how they believe every American deserves a home of their own or how the Republicans, in their own best interest, refused to regulate the industry.  What I will say is this:  regardless of the ignorance of the potential home buyers, they went into a situation that was too good to be true and they knew it. 
Saying that the banks didn’t disclose the details of how an adjustable rate mortgage works does not release the buyer from responsibility.  They should have researched the situation themselves.  They should have realized that the rates could and would, most likely, go up, as would their payments.  If they couldn’t afford those payments under the most difficult of situations, then they never should have proceeded.  Ignorance is not an excuse.  Either is a lack of education.  My own husband lacks a formal education, but he always feels the need to educate himself on the risks of each loan we apply for and proceeds accordingly. 
            So why would these people put themselves and their futures at risk like this?  Because they want what they want.  End of story.  They wanted what they thought they were entitled to, regardless of their ability to pay.  Why?  Well, I put a lot of the blame on how American’s perceive themselves through the eyes of others.  Americans watch too much reality TV and put too much value on what they see there, especially when it comes to sports figures. 
These figures, often young men from poor backgrounds and broken homes, feel they can afford to buy anything they want and they do, in excess, to show how well they are doing, how far they have come in life.  It’s a bit irresponsible, yes, but it’s their life and they can live it how they want.  They’ve worked hard to get there.  What makes it so bad is the TV producer who records bits and pieces of their lives, edits then presents it as reality.  That is so far from reality as to be laughable.   
            Those athletes or celebrities have managed to turn a skill into gold.  It is a rarity that many aspire to, for sure, which is not a bad thing in and of itself.  Ambition is good.  It inspires us to try harder, to achieve a life greater than we have ever known.  But it also means hard work.  It means educating yourself or seeking some kind of training or working diligently to sharpen an already special skill.  It’s not something for nothing.
This is where I have a problem.  Americans, once the hardest working people on the face of the earth, have become lazy.  They no longer feel the need to work for what they want.  They feel entitled to whatever they see on TV or in the movies or on whatever gadget is relevant in that moment.   
            Parents these days spoil their children into thinking they are uniquely special, that they should expect everything they want, but they often don’t teach their kids how to achieve it.  They hear their kids screaming or throwing a tantrum and, in their need to calm the kid down and ease their own guilt at working too much and not being there enough, throw some new toy or electronic babysitting device at their kid and call it a day.  They are not doing their kid any favor by giving them everything they want.  And they are certainly handicapping them, and in the long run, the country, by taking the easy way out and handing over what the kid is demanding because they are too tired or unable to cope.
            What is that kid going to do when its time for college or time to start their career or provide for their own families?  They will have no real idea how to cope with real reality, real disappointment, real misfortune.  They will run back to mommy and daddy and demand another handout because that’s what’s always worked for them before.  It’s no wonder the rest of the world is passing us by, why they see us as spoiled, entitled bigots.  We simply do not aspire to anything more than what we can buy, for what will present us in the best light to our friends, family and neighbors. 
            Now, I’ve known both poverty and wealth, not that I’ve experienced either at its most extreme, but moderate versions, for sure.  I’m in a down cycle right now, and have been for over three years, with my business collapsing and all my clients shutting their doors, but I’ve adjusted.  I never buy clothes or take vacations or make unnecessary purchases.  In one week, I’ve had to buy snow tires and a new fridge and it’s killed me to spend that money with Christmas around the corner.  But they were necessary and I will adjust to accommodate them by giving something else up. 
Luxury for me is taking one day in Portland to see a basketball game or going out to eat Mexican food once every other month.  Those little luxuries help me cope.  I’ll never live outside what I can afford because it means I will have to give up my son’s college education or my retirement.  Instant gratification and seeking the adulation of those around me means my life will be that much more difficult later on, when all those who I try to impress will be long gone and better forgotten.  Yeah, live for today, but plan for the future, as well.
I realize many people will not agree with me and I certainly am not looking for a fight, but I do want people to be responsible for themselves, to think for themselves, to be original and have ambition to achieve something.  Don’t fall back on the tried and true.  Push yourself.  Dream big.  Work hard and long to achieve it, but know the future lies in the children and if we do not set them up for success by allowing them to fail or be disappointed, then we are all doomed.  Teach them that the world is what we make it and can be what we dream it to be, but we need to have a realistic, attainable dream to begin with.  And the only way to get there is with hard work that is not always going to be successful, but with each failure, we learn a better way.  Know your limitations, but push against them…AND STOP WATCHNG REALITY TELEVISION!                                 
(This was originally supposed to be a blog about how we’ve become complacent and accept mediocrity, or worse, as the norm, as exemplified on reality TV.  I wanted to say how our skewed vision of reality has crippled our ability to be original.  Those thoughts are expressed in here somewhere.  I think you will just have to work a little harder to find it…sorry…not!)           

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