“He who cannot be a good follower cannot be a good leader.” ― Aristotle
I am neither a child of the Sixties nor of the Seventies. I was born in a moment of time that results in my youthful personal development spanning both decades. This meant that I was too young to participate in much of the counterculture movement and too old to be drawn into a commercial-driven need to possess everything in sight. Then again, I can see how both decades have left a lasting impression on me
For better or worse, the Sixties in America is greatly remembered as a time when many people were trying to find an alternative to what they saw as oppressive rules dictated by an out-of-touch and old fashioned society. Although much good came from that period — the Peace Corps and other volunteer organizations come to mind — the decade had its share of downsides, not the least of which was irresponsible drug use.
The Seventies, meanwhile, developed into an era of crass commercialism. Trends popularized by flashy television commercials came and went almost faster than people could snatch up the newest gadgets. If it was out there with a price tag, America lined up to buy it… leading to such poor investment choices as The Pet Rock and polyester leisure suits.
I want to focus on the evolution of what we experienced in the Seventies to that which we’re seeing today, and it all comes down to a little pronoun.
In a 1976 article published in New York Magazine, author and journalist Tom Wolfe (the guy who wrote “The Right Stuff”) declared the Seventies to be The “Me” Decade. He saw American society as transitioning from a philosophy of communitarianism — in which the ideals of the community are given higher regard than those of particular persons — to one of individualism. Everything became centered on the greedy desires of the individual, regardless of any greater need of the society as a whole.
If there was an urge, there was a product designed to provide satisfaction. And we were willing and eager to buy it on impulse. Possessions were the primary drivers of our economy, even if much of what we bought was disposable… or became so once the initial excitement died down.
The “Me” Decade was flooded with the attitude of taking care of oneself first, leaving scraps to the others. The sense of charitable feelings toward neighbors took a back seat to the need for personal gratification. Not that we became completely Scrooge-like, of course, but there certainly was a palpable shift from the needs of “We” to the requirements of “Me”.
In the years since, those from my generation have settled into a routine that seems to fall somewhere between the two philosophies, a tug-of-war between wanting to give and to receive. But not so much now. I’m beginning to think we should refer to the present time as The “Me, NOT You” Decade.
As the world continues its battle with COVID-19, it’s become more common to see that folks across the USA just don’t feel as inclined to be considerate. We’re asked to limit close physical contact, reduce the size of social gatherings, and change how we work and shop. Much of our nation’s economy has suffered, with some businesses and even entire industries pushed to the point of no return. This coronavirus hit us hard and continues to kick us where it hurts. For some, the challenge has been met with… if not enthusiasm then stubbornness as we try to maintain as much of our normal lives as possible. And that, dear reader, has meant becoming accustomed to wearing masks.
And that’s the point where I just lost a bunch of readers. They don’t want to hear any more about covering their faces. They either don’t believe the science or they refuse to accept authority. Too bad, because they could learn a thing or two from the next few paragraphs.
You see, whether we like it or not, we all need a helping hand to fight this pandemic. We simply can’t ignore the obvious, and we can’t stomp our feet and refuse to do what’s right. That’s sad because we’ve done it before.
I wasn’t alive during World War Two, but my parents and grandparents shared plenty of stories, both about their military service and life changes here at home. Once our nation was drawn into the fight, we the people had no choice but to pitch in. Literally no choice. To make sure that needed supplies were available to our troops, folks learned to do without many things that otherwise they took for granted. Rationing of food like milk, butter, and bacon was mandatory. (BACON?!? Yes, the mainstay of dads everywhere was limited.) Other goods like rubber, shoes, paper, and so many more common items were either hard to come by or impossible to find.
It didn’t stop there. Families in cities and small towns were ordered to use heavy drapes or cardboard to cover their windows at night so that enemy aircraft wouldn’t be able to see lights from inside. Civil Defense would declare drills and halt all traffic. Even in the middle of Nowhere, USA… far, far removed from any potential target of the Germans or Japanese.
And you know what Americans did? They went along with it, because the government told them it was necessary to overcome a common enemy. There was a spirit of community back then that was stronger and more important than petty selfishness. But that was then.
Today, you’re asked to cover your nose and mouth… to protect others. And you won’t.
Do what’s right
But what do we expect? People have decided that lying… or denying obvious truth… is their preferred lifestyle. Why waste time and energy learning the facts when being stupid is so easy? They won’t take their thumbs out of their… ears… long enough to listen.
They’ll watch the president, the supposed leader of this country who refuses to follow the advice of medical experts — except those who have sold their souls and will tell him only what he wants to hear — and do what he says and does even if it goes against whatever shred of common sense they have left. They’ve been cheated out of the truth by this president so much that they’re afraid to be exposed as a victim of the con. They voted for the guy and, by gum, they’d rather go down with the ship than admit they made a mistake.
But maybe enough of them will open their eyes this year. It might take personal illness or a tragic loss of a family member to get their attention, and that’s unfortunate. So much of the spread of COVID-19 could be reduced if people would just be courteous enough to wear a mask — covering mouth AND nose — that is proven to help cut down on the bodily fluids you exhale.
Be patriotic. Protect your fellow Americans.
(Originally published in the July 2, 2020 edition of the Morrisons Cove Herald.)