Friday, August 17, 2007

Where We Went Wrong

I was always taught to respect my elders and I've now reached the age when I don't have anybody to respect.
- George Burns

Considering that the comedian lived to a few days short of his 100th birthday, his joke is well taken.

But what of the rest of us? Who do we have to respect?

Respecting elders is the fifth of the Bible's Ten Commandments and a component of the teachings of almost every culture through the ages. In tribal days (which comprise most of human history) respecting elders was critical because only those who had lived long enough to have learned from their elders and accumulated experience of their own held the wisdom needed to help the tribe continue through its new experiences. Elder wisdom was the thread that held everyone together.

In our modern megasocieties that is less necessary since there are always a few people who hold a great deal of wisdom in any society. Look at the wisdom demonstrated by our political leaders, our religious leaders, the pillars of our communities.

OK, bad example. Look at our business leaders who make fortunes for their shareholders while depriving those in resource-rich communities of decent lives, selling poison-laced tobacco products to citizens of poor countries who have not heard how lethal they are, selling products with warranties they have no intention of honouring. They have turned our education systems into factories that churn out followers (not leaders) with the kinds of skills their industries can use to make more money.

Business leaders may not be good examples either. Let's look at our idols, the members of our entertainment industry. Surely Paris Hilton, movie heroes, rock band members and the like have messages we can learn from.

Messages, yes, if it's negative role models we're looking for.

How about teachers? Almost every one of us had a teacher we respected greatly, one who inspired us to strive toward our potential. Most of them, however, were average folks who struggled along on meagre income, with few resources, inadequate curriculum to work by and almost nothing to support what there was, and dreadfully little support from their superiors in administration.

The average career of a teacher in North America these days is five years, which indicates how devoted most new teachers are to enslaving themselves to a system that refuses to give them what they need and ignores the primary function of education, to grow competent and confident new adults for the coming world.

The problem is not that we don't respect our elders. The problem is that our elders subscribed to the dictates of business that "money is everything, only losers don't have it," thereby losing track of their function as positive role models for younger people.

Most people in the western world do have money. So much that those in developing nations envy us our possessions and we have sufficient to throw money at just about anything that pleases our hearts, even if it only lasts a short period of time. We have houses that are twice as big as those of our parents and cars (or approximations thereof, such as vans or SUVs) that serve needs we don't have, other than the need for bragging rights.

Who can we blame for this? Look around, the possibilities are everywhere. Conservatives tell us that our problems of lack of respect are simply consequences of living the good life, of having what everyone else wants but can't have because they aren't prepared to mortgage their souls for future wealth and promises for the present.

We don't need someone to blame, but someone to show us that what we have achieved is subservience to industries that control our lives from cradle to grave and to offer an alternative lifestyle with true hope, happiness and fulfillment.

Does that sound like pie in the sky? Then what is real, Paris Hilton? Ron Lay, former head of Enron? George W. Bush? Saddam Hussein? Osama bin Laden? These people either are or were until recently idols for many people. Respect may not be the best word, unless it's a grudging respect for their notoriety. Fame is the ultimate goal of the money society.

When we can't be happy with what we have then we will never be happy with what we can achieve in the future. If we can't see beauty around us today we will never see it by moving elsewhere.

We need positive role models to follow. We need our media to show us that those positive role models will help us to reach objectives in life that are worth striving for.

With enough money a person can buy anything. Anything but what's important in life. People with money persuade themselves that owning is all that matters. People with little persuade themselves that what they lack in life could be bought. It's parts of industry's social paradigm.

We can never find a better life at the bank or the stock market.

Bill Allin
Turning It Around: Causes and Cures for Today's Epidemic Social Problems, a book about how to teach everyone in the world life lessons that are worth learning.
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