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  • Last modified 62 days ago (June 9, 2022)

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Apathy is
our true pandemic

If Betsy Ross were around for Flag Day 2022, she might be tempted to replace the stars and stripes with a help-wanted sign.

From paramedics and nurses to truck drivers, bookkeepers, lawyers, schoolteachers, and even journalists, it’s becoming harder and harder to find willing workers in our COVID-battered economy.

That’s especially true in rural areas like ours, particularly if jobs can’t be performed remotely.

You’d think rural areas, where we aren’t wedged into overcrowded offices and factories like yuppie sardines, would fare better in a pandemic.

But it turns out people seem to prefer working from home and living in areas where everything from booze to bathroom tissue is delivered anonymously to their doorsteps and an endless array of 24/7/365 drive-thrus provides the spice of life.

Places where the streets roll up before the sun goes down seem to lack the luster to lure more than a few people who aren’t meth heads. And it’s not just that they won’t take up residence and become members of the work force. It’s also that they don’t become leaders for the community.

We’d love to be able to blame all of this on COVID, just as we blame record fuel prices on the pandemic. But there appears to be more at work — a fundamental shift in how people feel about jobs, family, and life in general.

From the Greatest Generation through Baby Boomers, people tended to get much of their satisfaction from their livelihoods. In rural communities, where the chief executive might also be the chief janitor for a small business, that was a necessary mindset.

Later generations, however, seem more focused on family and friends, on never rocking the boat, and on strictly limiting work to 9 to 5, minus a growing array of holidays and breaks. To them, success doesn’t mean profitably providing a necessary service. It means everyone feeling loved and a winner while often doing as little actual work as possible.

Whereas older generations valued ingenuity and intelligence, younger generations seem to value feelings and free time.

It’s as if they took their cues from shows they watched as kids in theaters or on TV. In the ’60s, kids reveled in Bugs Bunny, Roadrunner, Tweetie, and others outwitting the powers that be. By the ’80s, they instead wanted to be Mr. Rogers’ neighbor and to love Barney as much as he loved them.

In olden days, kids struggled to find things to do. In modern times, they need appointment secretaries. In olden days, they learned what they were good at and what they weren’t, adjusting their ambitions and training accordingly. In modern times, everyone’s a winner — until, of course, he or she arrives in the work force and quickly discovers that trying isn’t the same as succeeding.

Facts no longer are facts; instead, they’re someone’s opinion. And rather than worry about what elected officials will do with issues that directly impact their lives, they banter incessantly about vague, hot-button topics that stimulate emotions but not much else.

The result is a world in which businesses are open fewer and fewer hours, every child is regarded as above average, and no one dares to actually discuss issues in public for fear someone’s feelings might get hurt or they might be ostracized as a result.

Leadership today is less about setting out in a bold direction and gathering followers than it is about finding out where people are going and trying to stand in front of them. It’s a dangerous trend that ultimately will leave us falling further and further behind in a global economy that, unlike school games, doesn’t automatically make everyone a winner.

The solution many people have seen to this problem is to encourage younger residents to become more involved, but it might also be that we need to encourage older residents not to retire from leadership and to remain involved in more ways than just occasionally voting.

In the end, we need all our generations pulling in the same general direction to get us out of the metaphorical mud that has mired our economy as surely as our roads have been mired in literal mud by relentless rainstorms.

It’s time for the war of the generations to end. School board members mysteriously meet in secret. County commissioners pay top dollar to buy real estate as if they were playing Monopoly with taxpayer money. Our businesses may not have revolving doors, but our jailhouse has a huge one. City council members snipe over everything in public and then close their doors when pondering serious issues like finding new leaders for the city bureaucracy.

There are plenty of issues for people of all generations to weigh in on and pay attention to. All we have to do is start.

Who are we to say all of this? The same as you: just another average citizen. And that’s the point. It’s time average citizens stop grousing in private and start speaking their minds in public, even if it leads — as we imagine this editorial will — to condemnation.

Democracy as a form of government works best when all views are freely expressed and eagerly listened to.

— ERIC MEYER

Last modified June 9, 2022

 

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