We need to lose. We need to experience loss and failure… and take personal ownership of our trials. We need to know what suffering is so that we can appreciate success and comfort… without falling into the trap of believing a comfortable life is an entitlement. I am not saying everyone who loses will appreciate success, only that without facing real loss most people cannot appreciate success. Without real trials, most people are simply going to feel entitled to a life of security and comfort, even when they make consistently poor choices.
The Greatest Generation (Simply Doing What Needs Doing)
A century ago my great-grandfather, August Reitz, was the patriarch of his Wisconsin family farm. He lived and worked in a time when not only did he have to take care of himself and his family, he had to take care of his neighbors. All of the local farmers cooperatively joined forces at harvest time to bring in all the crops to ensure their mutual success. A farmer who did not work hard and did not give and receive help would fail. The very real possibility of losing everything was ever threatening. When the Great Depression rolled across the United States in the late 1920s and early 1930s, combined with the Oklahoma and Texas Dust Bowl, America’s citizenry suffered huge losses. The U.S. Government responded to the crisis with the creation of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a federal social safety net. In essence, FDR created social insurance so that Americans no longer had to suffer the full brunt of losses and failures. It only took one generation for the work ethic of August Reitz to began to crumble. The president who made the bold claim, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself!” was laying the very foundation of a society that would soon become consumed with fear of fear.
The Advent of Hedonism (It’s a Free Country, I Can Do What I Want)
In his 1961 inaugural address, President John F. Kennedy made this plea to America, “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The New Deal was enabling Americans to indulge in selfish behavior, and President Kennedy’s January 20th inaugural address was a carefully worded chastisement of the newly emerging American culture, a culture that has since come into its fullness. President Kennedy saw that America’s safety net was increasingly being used as a crutch, an entitlement. Our survival no longer depended on making wise choices or helping and receiving help from our neighbors. We would just pay our taxes and leave the rest to Uncle Sam. That generation of the 1960s and the 1970s became the generation of hedonism. Our government and industry were gradually removing the risks from risky behavior. Welfare, birth control, antibiotics, drug rehab centers, abortion clinics, FEMA and the FDIC removed the risk of losing, creating a generation of hedonistic gamblers. Suddenly people could take the personal risks of princes and kings and have someone else pick up the pieces if they got called out.
The Advent of Greed (I’ve Got Mine and to Hell With Everyone Else)
This generation of self-seekers went on to have children who one-upped their parents, taking hedonism for granted. They wanted more. They became the generation of greed in the 1980s and 1990s, with their shameless manipulations of banking and financial markets. They took huge risks that finally ended with an American economic meltdown in the early 21st Century. Once again, instead of allowing the players to actually lose, Uncle Sam stepped in and bailed out the generation of greed with no real consequence whatsoever.
The Advent of Complete Entitlement (The World Owes Me an Effortless Life)
Sadly, the generation of greed now has children. Sadly, the prevailing attitude of the generation of greed is that their children must be protected from losing at all costs. Stupid parents, men and women raised in a false culture where losing is considered inhumane… men and women terrified of loss, and horrified that their children might ever lose at anything. So a bunch of soccer moms and sports dads got together and did away with keeping score and declared everyone a winner. Participation trophies for everyone! Last place is equal to first place! This generation of parents is also doing away with academic competitiveness, first by grade inflation in the public schools, and now by doing away with grades altogether. In essence, today’s emerging young adults live with the expectation that success should be redistributed evenly among winners and losers, among the industrious and the lazy. We have reached a point in our society where all the spiritually necessary lessons that hardships teach have been removed from the curriculum. A huge portion of American society now holds the firm belief that they have no obligation to help themselves, let alone help their neighbor. A majority of Americans believe they are entitled to be, at least somewhat, a burden to someone else, and are aghast at the thought of being responsible for themselves. We have become like children who expect sweets for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and grow very angry when occasionally the food provided is healthy.
For instance, I recently had two insulin-dependant diabetic patients come to my pharmacy to get their insulin. The first, I will call him Dr. Dumas, had lost his vial of insulin and was terribly upset his insurance would not give him a replacement for free. Grudgingly, Dr. Dumas paid out-of-pocket, but moaned and groaned about the unfairness of it all. The second, I shall call him Mr. Sour, in a similar circumstance, actually went without his insulin for four days because he would rather die than pay an extra $50. Both Dumas and Sour are well-off, upper middleclass men. Both patients believe, on principle, they are entitled to have someone else take care of them. They both believe they are, in fact, entitled to be free of any responsibility for their own life, and become impatient and irritated when they find the rest of the world lacks sympathy for them. All sweets and no vegetables. All winning, and no losing. All reward and no risk. Security with no effort. Rights without responsibility. Tantrums when told otherwise.
This is an immensely false philosophy, and the Republic of the United States of America is crumbling beneath its weight. The majority of our political leaders are proclaimed believers in this philosophy because it gives them control over the masses. They know that in a society defined by entitlement folks will sell their very souls in order to maintain the illusion that they can be insulated from all risk and all loss. Illusion it remains, though. In reality, we are responsible to ourselves, for ourselves, and for our neighbors. Our souls, or psyches if you prefer, need to struggle and earn success in order to live a full life. Our losses, self-inflicted or not, belong to us, and only a fool fails to use the experience of loss for their own betterment. Every loss, every failure, and every trial represents a crossroads in our life where we have a chance to pick a better path. To hold the belief we are entitled to never experience any pains or frustrations, and that when things do go badly the fault and responsibility always lies elsewhere, retards our collective maturity, leaving us a society dominated by an adolescent mentality.
Unfortunately, making note of it here will not change the road we are traveling.