Being philosophical and maudlin are not my mindset but I do want to be reflective. A few years ago I saw the movie “The Legend of Bagger Vance.” I don’t recall it receiving any special acclaim but I enjoyed it and recommend it. It addresses the concept of time and has a theological underpinning. This may be overly analytical but the bottom line is I really enjoyed the movie. During and after watching it I reflected on my life and the world as I knew it.
In 1967 a friend and I drove to Montreal, Canada to see Expo 67. The Vietnam War was raging, anti-war demonstrations and civil rights marches were occurring and impacting our lives. As we drove north along the east coast on Interstate 95, I tried to consider who I was. I had already passed my military induction physical. We proceeded north knowing that Canada had become somewhat of a safe haven to avoid military service and the Vietnam Conflict. I studied the landscape, looking and listening. The car radio, no CD’s back then, blared songs of protest, rock and roll and Motown. Listening to the landscape may seem peculiar but there was and is a message there. My mind was weighing the potential consequences of being in the Army. After we arrived in Canada my friend suggested that we should stay. This was not something I could do, not so much out of conscience as my upbringing.
The GI Bill helped me and enabled me to complete a college degree. I entered the workforce in the public sector. I believed that public service was the path I intended to pursue. Again something inside me created a need to help people. That pursuit as a bureaucrat lasted about six years. The work and people were frustrating. I won’t bore you but want to say that any sense of accomplishment was lost but not my belief in service.
The private sector provided its own frustrations. The constant reminder of the bottom line as a measure of success oftentimes was infuriating. Not that profit is bad, just the unbridled pursuit of it is. I would spend the balance of my career in the private sector with various inroads into the public domain. Service with various public sector appointments and not for profit boards provided a sense of purpose beyond working each day.
The eighty’s seemed to be a change era for so many of us. The calls for peace, justice, ecology and the general concern for us rather than me was slipping. People began making money, lots of money. At the same time working class type jobs were diminishing leaving little opportunity for replacement jobs. There were new jobs being created but more service oriented with lower pay and less security. Others with growing incomes purchased bigger houses, new expensive cars, ate out often but were locked into their lifestyle by the golden handcuffs, more money, more spending, more me and less you. Divorce, second families, bigger paychecks, corporate transfers to a new place, several years and move again, no roots, no sense of belonging and pride in place or work product. Others, many with so much lost cling to self-respect and family. The factory left town but no reason to move. Perhaps our moral compass, a term so many like to use, was broken. Perhaps our moral compass set for true north was actually just set in the direction of self-interest and self-preservation.
The ninety’s brought welfare reform to eliminate cheats even though the very limited amount of undeserving people was documented. Much of welfare or government help programs served children, elderly and people with disabilities based on reports produced by reputable sources. Invading Iraq to overthrow a government with no real capability to respond to the US was seen as a good cause. Perhaps if the military consisted of the sons and daughters of those who instituted and those who supported the policy, the choice of action would have been different. Financial institutions obsessed with greed nearly destroy our economy but the poor and government housing assistance programs are the blame. Unemployment at 10 % but help the too big to fail money interests but no government help for jobs for the unemployed and under employed as foreclosures sky-rocket. A very rich man is overheard saying 47% of us are on the welfare rolls. Despite this era of self interest and corporate greed as a nation we are able to come together enough that a black man is re-elected president.
It appears as if the pendulum is swinging again back to a more concerned time. We are resetting our moral compass. Then along comes Donald Trump. He personifies greed, arrogance, lack of concern for others, xenophobia and will say most anything without caring or remorse. Does he actually personify who we have become? I hope not but we will know in November if we have a compass at all. When Bagger Vance was advised that some action or condition was years ago, he would reply, no, only a moment ago. Some of us lived through the civil rights and anti-war protest period in this country. It was a time of turmoil filled with self-interest and an underlying belief and concern for our fellow human beings, citizens and our planet. Somewhere along the way we left that belief and sentiment behind. We may think it was lost so long ago but it was only a moment ago. Our moments are rapidly slipping. It is time to stand tall on our feet, no more living on our knees. It can’t just be me, we need an us again.