WHEN “UP” IS NOT THE ONLY WAY –
~~by Tim Bryce - 8/5/2013 ~~
~~BRYCE ON LIFE~~
- What direction are we headed, "Up" or "Down"?
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If you listen to members of the "Greatest Generation," those surviving the Great Depression and beyond, you hear stories of hunger, unemployment, desperation, sacrifice, and austerity. It was a point in our history when the middle class hit rock bottom. If you talk to people from this era though, they will also describe a time when the family pulled together and worked unselfishly to make ends meet. Families maintained vegetable gardens, canned fruit, raised chickens and rabbits, sewed and knitted, put cardboard in shoes to extend their life, walked to school, turned the heat down during the winter, and wasted nothing. Children sold newspapers and ran errands, some quit school prematurely in order to work to support the family, men sold apples, bottles were saved for their deposits, and everyone understood the value of a mere penny. To illustrate, when I was in Junior High School in Chicago, back in the 1960's, I remember an incident whereby my family was going out for dinner. My father was driving, and we had just left our driveway when my brother discovered four pennies in his pocket. Thinking the coins were nothing but junk, he rolled down his window and threw the pennies out into the street. When my father saw this in his rear view mirror, he slammed on the brakes, and barked at my brother to get out of the car and pick up every penny he had thrown out. Yes, my father, who grew up in the 1930's, understood the value of a penny, a lesson he taught not only my brother, but myself.
In later years, the "Greatest Generation" would look back proudly on surviving these difficult times. They recognized they had hit rock bottom but were buoyed by the knowledge they could only go "up" in their station in life, not down. It created a hunger and drive that propelled them to victory in World War II. They weren't afraid to tackle anything.
Following the war, many veterans took advantage of the G.I. Bill and enrollments in college swelled. The ambition and determination of the Greatest Generation led to the "Up" years of the 1950's and 1960's, and the Middle Class grew in leaps and bounds thereby making life more comfortable. Unlike their predecessors, the "Baby Boomers" did not experience the pains and difficulties of the preceding generation. Still, their parents pushed them to excel. What the boomers lacked in drive, they made up for in education. The boomers were spoiled though, a trait that would be inherited by succeeding generations.
There is no question, Generations X and Y had it easier than the Boomers. Today though, the concepts of sacrifice and drive have been supplanted by a sense of "rights." Now, a college education is expected, as are high paying jobs, expensive cars, travel, fine food, and other material possessions. Unlike the Greatest Generation who fought to survive in the greatest economic disaster of our history, today there is a sense of entitlement. Whereas our predecessors had a sense of "Up," young people today are faced with both "up" and "down." Historically, the thinking had been to continuously think "upwards," but we are now faced with the brutal reality of failure and a downward spiral.
It is easy to say life is what we make of it, but economics plays a dramatic role as well. Could we survive another Great Depression? Some say we came perilously close in the last few years. Not true, government safety nets helped prevent disaster. It's still an interesting question. I would like to believe we could if, for no other reason, than out of sheer necessity. However, the struggle would require considerable sacrifice which is now a foreign concept to many of us. It's somewhat unsettling to realize succeeding generations will not have it as good as their predecessors, that they may go "down" as opposed to "up."
When you are at the base of the mountain, you have the comfort of knowing you can only go up, but if you are halfway up the mountain, you come to the realization it is now a two-way proposition; you can either continue to climb or fall into the abyss. Whereas the Greatest Generation had nothing to lose, today the stakes are dramatically different.
Keep the Faith!