The Times, they are a’changin’!

“It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” — Frederick Douglas

To begin, I must caution you that I’ve always been a bit odd, but probably my oddness most exhibited itself during my childhood. To say I thought outside the box would be a wild understatement. I say that to preface what I’m about to share with you; yes, I really did have these thinks when I was a teenager!

I was about 14, and I grew up in a household that was severely abusive. I don’t know that a day went by that my siblings and I didn’t undergo some form of abuse at our parents’ hands; whether it was physical, emotional, sexual, or some combination of the three, it was a daily facet of our lives. What this meant to me, among all the detritus that is an outcome of these types of experiences, was that I constantly thought about what could be done differently to avoid producing parents like mine were. So, I came up with this idea that I later realized was a social experiment I’d love to conduct. Simply put, at about 14ish years old, I thought that it’d be a great idea to find about 1,000 couples and house them all in a common community. These couples would have to be carefully screened to exhibit the following traits:

  • A highly developed sense of personal accountability
  • A passion for teaching and encouraging children
  • A determination to raise children to be mentally stable; as fully self-reliant and self-accountable as possible

My idea then progressed to finding about 2,000 babies — those given up for adoption, or those abandoned, or those who generally fell through the cracks and were being raised by people like my parents. I wanted to find these babies, all about the same age, and give them to these adults who’d been so carefully pre-screened to be raised in loving homes, as cherished children who were taught that they had all they needed within themselves to accomplish whatever they wanted to accomplish. These children would be raised with loving discipline, and with parents who knew which battles were worth fighting, and which weren’t. The goal of this was to produce a “generation” (yes, I know, 2,000 kids isn’t near representative of an entire generation!) of adults who entered adulthood with heads firmly on their shoulders. They would rise to challenges without being consumed by them. They would be adaptive and open to change, but only when the change was beneficial to them as individuals as well as to the community of which they were a part. I wondered just how our society as it existed then would handle the release of people who weren’t open to being swayed by rhetoric into their midst.

I realize my numbers were way too low, and my idea way too simplistic, to be viable, but I will admit that when I became a parent myself at the tender age of 18, I had many of these concepts and ideas brewing in the back of my mind. I certainly was not the perfect example of parenthood; I made my mistakes, some of them ones that my daughters are still working to overcome in their own lives. But, with that realization, I also must admit that I didn’t do completely terribly. I strove to teach the girls discernment. I desired to give them the confidence to make decisions, accept undesirable outcomes, and keep pushing forward despite obstacles. As I see them, now, as adults, I am gratified that they seemed to actually learn the best of what I had to offer without being subsumed by the mistakes I made.

Why am I writing this, you may ask? Well, it’s simple. In keeping with my desire to be an SJW Extroidinnaire, I think it’s important to discuss the things that have shaped and continue to shape our society, especially as our society seems so bent on dividing itself. Bear with me, hopefully this’ll all come full-circle and actually make sense when I’m done!

Here’s what I’ve observed, in the nearly 36 years between the development of these ideas and now. Keep in mind, these are my observations and opinions — not scientific ones. I can quote scientific stuff if you’d like! However, for now, I’ll keep it entirely anecdotal with the stipulation that if you disagree with me, you comment about it so we can converse and possibly enlighten one another. I am always open to other interpretations of data, and realize that it’s not necessary to agree with everything I say 🙂 I am not, in fact, always correct in my assessments … just don’t tell the husband I admitted that!

As our nation has embraced the technological advances of the last 50 or so years, we’ve lost and gained. Some of the losses include direct face-to-face contact with people in favor of texting and video-chats; loss of jobs in favor of automation. Our gains can include things like instant information at our fingertips; the ability to converse with anyone, instantly, nearly anywhere in the world; video conferencing while walking down the streets. In short, as with anything else, there’s going to be good and bad with what we’re living through now.

In essence, in just the last 50 years or so (that’s just about 2.5 generations), we’ve gone from being a society that had a good solid reliance on job stability to a society where job surety is a concept from a bygone era; a society where neighbors knew each other, knew each other’s needs, to a society where many of us are closer to someone we’ve never met, half the world away, than we are to the people who live next door; a society where the primary form of interaction was face-to-face, to a society that prefers texting to talking. Properly managed, technology can absolutely be an asset. Adaptation is one of the hallmarks of humanity, and we’ve survived technological upheavals and renaissances before (Effects of Industrial Revolution on Society). Note, however, that the key words in this paragraph are “properly managed.”

Let me paint a picture for you. The year is 1918. A grandfather stands on the docks of the family property with his grandson, teaching him to fish. The grandson grows up and by 1938, he’s begun his own family. His father, now a grandfather, a few years later stands on the same dock and teaches his new grandson to fish. In this picture, the first grandfather, the father, and the last grandson all share much the same life experiences. However, when we look at a person who was born in, say, 1950 and compare that person’s life experiences to someone born in 1980, we’ll see a huge divide in experiences. Take that person born in 1980, and compare them to someone born in 2010, and we may not even speak quite the same language! Linguistic shift has begun to occur more speedily than it ever has thanks to the proliferation of instant communication. Jobs and family expectations are radically different, and continuing to change.

Simply put, following the Industrial Revolution, society changed considerably. Some of the key changes were:

  • Urban populations began to grow as people moved in toward cities in search of employment
  • Rural populations, and self-sustaining agrarian societies began to diminish
  • Class divides began to become more pronounced
  • Capitalism became the new normal as factories and industrial complexes began mass-production of commodities
  • Wage labor became the new “normal” — a norm that exists even today, largely stamping out the barter system
  • Education became more systematized and began the cycle that has resulted in “teaching to the slowest student”
  • Politically the environment changed drastically as new special-interest groups arose, including among them child laborers, female laborers and, with the increase in these populations and new rights attached to them, minority workers and people

For the people who lived through this, they watched an entire way of life be uprooted, overturned, and rewritten. The rules they’d lived their entire lives by were now defunct, and many couldn’t cope, withdrawing from society at large.

Today, we’re living in some of the same circumstances. The things I grew up with as “norms” — including a household where only one parent worked, news only arrived at noon, six o’clock, and sometimes 11 o’clock at night; channels went off the air sometime between 10-midnight; phone calls were monitored since there was usually only one phone in the house; guns were regular items in the household both for hunting and protection — all of these things have radically altered, and on a pretty brief timescale.

So now I’d like to look at some of what we’re seeing as our society strives to integrate ever-expanding technology into our daily repertoire.

  • With cell- and smart-phones, we can instantly voice, text, or video chat with anyone, anywhere — as long as we have their number
  • Our “news” arrives constantly, from many sources (most independent and highly opinionated or inflammatory), but most “reports” are liberally biased toward one political party or the other
  • Medical care has made great strides at improving and prolonging life, but it has also taken a significant hit due to charting (CYA and insurance) requirements that supersede patient care
  • Special-interest groups have arisen and can dominate the information we receive
  • Education has become, at the primary level, divided among classes in terms of quality, and at the secondary level it has divided among both political and class lines
  • The necessity of quality education is much touted, while the reality remains that we are continuing to lag further behind other industrial nations in practical outcome

These are just some of the small things, but they can have enormous effects on our society at large. For instance, while it’s great that we can chat with someone across the world, it’s perhaps not so great if we decide to do that while we’re out having dinner with our family … unless the person we’re chatting with is part of that family! While it’s also great that we can receive a constant deluge of information, we’re also seeing instances of information-overload; in short, there’s too much to make heads or tails of, and so many of us just tune out to anything not happening immediately around us. Further, there’s a growing gulf of people who’re fed up with what they’re fed by the big news channels — Fox News, CNN, so on and so forth. These people have begun to seek out news that appeals directly to them, which means that we’re seeing people shying away from inundation by “packaged” newsbites and surrounding themselves with news, reports, and information that appeals to them.

Medical care and education are the two biggest ticket items in my brief list above, and I’ll touch on them individually. To begin, medical care. Just prior the Industrial Revolution, the quality of medical care itself was lacking; diseases and disease-causing organisms were unexplored and largely unknown. Hygeine? What’s that? We should wash before we operate? Contaminated water? It’s water, for Pete’s sake, how can it be contaminated! Few diagnostic tools existed, so medicine was largely a matter of “Let’s hope I get this right!” However, the doctor was a well-respected member of the community, often traveling to his patients’ homes.

Today, we understand pathology and physiology with more detail than we could have imagined just 100 years ago. We have devices that are dedicated to everything from measuring our basal temperature to being able to perform delicate surgeries with human supervision. But we also have requirements fed to us by insurance companies and administrative wings of hospitals that demand docs spend their appointment time charting; knowing or looking up obscure codes so insurance companies will actually (maybe!) pay. In short, they spend so much time clicking boxes to state that they did everything they were “supposed” to do during their patient’s visit that they often can’t spend the necessary time hearing and supporting their patients. Trust me, docs are not happy about this at all (See ZDoggMD’s thoughts on this topic). While our abilities have expanded, our care has not kept pace and, in fact, could be said to have lost some ground.

Education? Wow, where does one even begin? Before I go into this a whole lot more, I invite you to review some of the writings from the Civil War, sent home by soldiers in the field. Some of these soldiers were young, very young; yet their writing and communication skills surpass those of most people having received their 12 years of mandatory schooling.

Education is a commodity, like anything else. From the days of apprenticeships to our current bloated secondary education system, something of value has always been traded for knowledge gained. However, in the apprenticeship model, that something traded was the student’s time and effort. Let’s assume an apprenticeship for woodworking, for instance. The apprentice would generally begin their apprenticeship at an early age, and with basic duties such as cleaning, stocking, etc. As they proved their mettle they were given greater responsibilities and more opportunities to show what they could do. Over time, their service translated itself into the ability to have “mastered” their craft. Today, that something of value is money … which a large proportion of our population does not have (40.8% of American households earned less than $50,000 during 2017). Just think of how far $50,000 a year will carry one person, much less an entire family, today. Approximately 94% of teachers buy school supplies for their students and classrooms out of their own pockets, many after having exhausted donation sites to raise the money.

The last “big” item on my list that has been impacted by technology, and the rapid rate of advances being made, is politics. Oh, yeah, politics has absolutely changed in the last 50 years! Simply put, JFK began a cycle that’s had an absolutely deleterious effect on our society, and that was utilizing technology fully to bring himself into our homes, to make a more direct connection with his constituents. He was successful in utilizing technology to vault himself into the presidency, and the nation mourned with his family when he was assassinated. This began the cycle that has culminated in today’s hate-filled, divisive, vitriolic posturing so endemic any time elections roll around.

Many of these things are issues that not only stunt our children from birth, but if one views our country as the youngling it is (we are only 240 years old, as a nation), we’ll realize that we’re still stumbling along, figuring things out. If you apply the relative youth of our country to the mental capacity and abilities of a pre-teen, then you can accept that mistakes happen, people stumble, and it’s important to allow that to happen. Just as it’s important to offer a hand, help them back up, let them dust themselves off, and try again. It is easy, and I’m as guilty as the next person, to claim “Things were better before!” But the saying goes “It’s like closing the barn door after the horse has bolted.” That horse can be tracked down and even eventually brought back home, but it has still escaped, and that escape must be dealt with — for the horse’s safety, for the owner’s income and/or peace of mind; for the value of the horse itself. Technology is here, and barring a world-wide cataclysm, it’s here to stay. We can adapt with it, and learn how to use it as a tool, or we can let it overwhelm us and eventually tear us apart. Remember that post about Choices? You know, the one where we talked about the fact that even if the options are all ugly, we still have choices?

Guess what, folk? We still have choices. We are not at the brink of no return; the barn door’s still closed enough to keep the horse semi-contained, so this is the time to really work toward correcting the things that need correction — without, hopefully, creating too many legacy issues from those corrections.

I’m going to look in to some things we, as individuals, can do to improve matters in forthcoming posts. Doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll reap the benefits ourselves — change is often terribly slow in coming, and then occurs with frightening rapidity — but it does mean we can shape the outcome of the legacy we leave for our children. I’ll examine standards of living for the average American, then begin some exploration into our educational system as it currently exists. From there I’ll explore workplace issues, then I’ll delve into the big bad one — politics. I’m already shuddering.

Change isn’t just coming, people, it’s already here. We can rebel against it, or we can learn to steward it in a manner that benefits everyone. Naturally, I’m hoping for the latter option! I challenge each of you reading to think about the direction you want your life to go, and what you can do to help bring that reality about. We all have that ability, lol, but it’s often disguised by hard work, lack of sleep, and immense frustration. I challenge each of us to accept that, and strive to improve our society … one person, one topic, one ideology at a time. We can do this, folk. We just have to choose to do it. Our young nation has great potential; our young people have that same potential. Shall we begin working to build strong children, or will we accept continuing to try to repair broken men?