Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Nation of Sprinters

(RANT WARNING: Readers seeking cool, reasoned spiritual things, please scroll past...)

America is a nation of sprinters. Fast out of the gate, strong at the start, able to bring tremendous assets and effort together in a short time in pursuit of a goal. It’s easy to put this in government terms, so let’s get closer to home. What do we love? What do we celebrate? The hot start-up company gets the ink, not the long-term industry: Gillette makes razor blades and generates money while Yahoo! makes news and generates headlines. We know the rookie of the year, while the career-wins guy is a statistical footnote. We pay $5000 to the rapid weight-loss clinic instead of spending $500 in the produce aisle and $100 on walking shoes. Americans watched the made-for-TV attack on Baghdad with rapt interest, and now with hundreds of thousands of boots on the ground, we have no idea what’s going on. We blasted FEMA for being slow to get to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, but that same government has to let every highway bridge and overpass rot because we can’t see why we should have to pony up taxes for them. We complain about our lawmakers doing things we don’t understand while we won’t sit still for more than a 30-second CNN sound bite before reaching for the remote.

Our world view is the short view.

Our national slogan should be, “Hurry! Hurry! What?” In the words of Havner, we “go up like rockets and come down like rocks.”

Welcome to the good ol’ USofADD.

And dear readers, many of you are at this very moment having the same thought: “Well then, tell us what to do about it.” A paragraph of clever rant in print and we are ready to take action. Ready, fire, aim. On that horse and riding off in all directions. We are a nation that has confused response time with positive action. Mistaken activity for accomplishment. And here are three simple steps we can take right now to get back on the right track: (Get real. Did you really not get that joke? It’s our appetite for “three quick steps” to anything that has formed us into a people with the attention span of a fruit fly. Everyone who thought there were going to be three steps, go back to the start of this rant and read it slowly…)

Life is not so simplistic, and it’s time we grew up and faced it. Time that we stopped looking for the quick fix, the short cut, the trite and simple answer to ancient and complex problems. And it’s high time we stopped believing people who offer these things and stopped buying their books. (By the way, next time you are in the self-help section of Barnes and Noble, ask yourself, “Now which of these books is going to dramatically change my life? And for only $17.95?”) Then put it back.

Stop and think. Okay, that’s a simple step, but it’s not the secret panacea to anything. But it might just slow down the our mental hyperdrive long enough for us to realize at least one thing we had failed to consider before. And having done that, we might think a bit more and discover more. And such a radical approach might help us toward solutions instead of mere reactions.

I am a proponent of a new set of heroes. That elderly man-- the one who takes care of his wife who is stricken with Alzheimer’s and can’t remember who he is-- is my hero. That thirty-year veteran second grade teacher is my hero. The kid who threw papers and mowed yards and said “You want fries with that?” until he wanted to puke-- all to buy his cheap first car; he is my hero. That lady who’s been in night school for six years is my hero. That couple who have stayed married for sixty years are my heroes. The man who saved up for five years and bought a new car with cash is my hero. Nobody on this list got there the easy way, or the fast way. They passed on opportunities for easier answers and more comfortable paths. They discovered that what is worthwhile, costs. And they paid the price. And we —not just they— are the richer for it.