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Salvage the future with ‘we’ not ‘me’

Posted: January 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 2, 2013 2:00 a.m.

One of the happier perks of my community columnist gig is reviewing comments posted by readers on the Signal website. One reader recently lamented that since congressmen are spineless economic illiterates, it falls on American media and even such humble people as Signal columnists to sort out our problems and identify needed solutions.

Well, saving America from its knuckle-headed congressmen too willing to allow their constituents to twist in the wind might be an excessive assignment for a volunteer columnist for the SCV Signal. Nevertheless, I have my opinions, and history shows I like to share them.

Getting to brass tacks, America’s greatest problem, and ironically one potentially easiest to correct, is that of where our hearts are. In less than 40 years we have passed governance of our wonderful country from the “Greatest Generation” to the “Me Generation” — and the associated degradation is fraying our edges and rotting our core.

I suspect the communal anxiety, trauma, work, suffering, sacrifice, and ultimate victory of a generation forged and bound by World War II achieved and lived an understanding of “We’re all in this together for the greater good,” which those of us who’ve not similarly struggled and suffered shoulder to shoulder will not today understand nor emulate without radical intervention.

Having had so much of our paths paved smoothly by those treading before us, today’s America habitually seeks the easy ways, the fast fixes, the paid-by-others tricks to get what we think we rightfully deserve.

In so many ways, we Americans think “me” instead of “we,” “my” instead of “our.”

This self-centeredness transcends political parties, geography and social stature. We’ve got welfare queens, corporate welfare queens, and abundant “takers” and 47-percenters of government largesse across all economic strata and in states of all hues. “Me-ism” is a trans-American malady, top to bottom and to our core.

Self-centrism impacts politics, industry, and families. Parents pull hair servicing their kids’ materialistic wants. Service industries struggle with employees who cannot, or will not, think beyond their own desires and limited understanding. CEOs and capital companies drive businesses for personal enrichment, not overall stakeholder benefit.

And government leaders and citizens alike simply will not muster courage sufficient to face hard financial facts that we want more than we’re willing to ourselves pay for, and we’re leveraging our kids and country for unearned and selfish ends.

In surveying our congressional leadership, we understand that most of these players are not economists nor moralists nor sociologists. Before their ascendency, they’ve sold boots, cars, real estate, contingency lawyering, and snake oil.

Yet for our democracy, maybe the technical side of government isn’t so important, as the hard stuff can be farmed out to professionals and intellectuals. But as to intentions and purpose of leadership in forming and following correct goals for a fair, stable, and growing America — those are matters requiring servant-leader, team-spirited, humble, yet determined hearts. This is what a successful democracy demands.

Warmly regarded guru Zig Ziglar helps us understand where we need to go in our leadership and in our citizenship. Zig was fond of saying, “You can get anything you want in life if you just help other people get enough of what they want.”

Zig liked to tell a humorous story about a fabulous banquet in hell where the table is adorned with a feast beyond description, yet everyone perpetually starves. How can that be?

You see, in hell the damned are hobbled with arms that can’t bend, and at this otherwise resplendent feast they remain too self-centered to reach across the table to help one another feed themselves of the splendor. Zig’s imagery might well describe some of the suffering we’re self-inflicting in such our otherwise abundantly blessed country.

Note that Ziglar never suggests handouts. He speaks of empathetically working together so everyone shares and gains. Prosperity and success are often best achieved by working in ways in which all are empowered to participate in the effort and share in the earned rewards.

Call it give and take. Collaboration. Understanding. Communicating. Respect. Fair-mindedness. Character. Love for others. Rule of Law. Respect of Rights. For an America in need of a better direction than what we’ve got, call it renewed civic-mindedness.

So, back to my Signal website commenter: My strongest fix for America’s deepest problems is an immediate and powerful rebuilding of our national trait of civic-mindedness.

At the core, we need an intervention featuring an overwhelming inundation of national civics instruction. Our greatest generation saw to it that “civics” was once taught purposefully in schools, but that went away along with equally necessary mechanic shops and home economics.

But we can recover with sufficient determination. Let’s attack the root of our problem — that of our sorry and selfish national character. Teach civic-mindedness well enough and hypocritical leaders will expose themselves for public rebuke — solving our leadership problem in the process.

We can invest a portion of our deficit spending to purchase a cure for what ails us. Hello, real civics lessons broadcast on multi-media from now — until we again know and understand just how much we really are in this all together, after all!

Our Greatest Generation would appreciate efforts to restore what they so selflessly created. We’ve done successful anti-litter campaigns. I suspect we can purposefully improve our national character, as well.

Gary Horton is a Valencia resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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