I filter through the oceans of “news” available every day in an attempt to read, watch and listen to the few “drops” that provide some indication of what is going on in the world [see my recent post News [or NNTN?] Circa 2017 for my rationale for the quote marks surrounding “news”]. Since the election last November, I have been focused, as most Americans probably are at this time, on what is going on in America. One thing is crystal clear: our new president will have to deal with an overwhelmingly negative bias against him in most of the media — perhaps throughout his presidency, but most definitely during the “first 100 days” on which the media currently seems to be so focused [in stark contrast, I might add, to the overwhelmingly positive bias in favor of his predecessor].
As I tried this week to rise above the weeds and look for the bigger picture, I was looking for common elements in the “goings on” — Friday’s inauguration, Saturday’s marches and demonstrations, Monday’s initial presidential actions, the grinding slowness of the Cabinet confirmation process in the Senate, etc. [and the media coverage of all of these things]. What I began to see, however, was not so much the common elements from which I sought to synthesize central themes, but a glaringly missing element. I must admit that I failed to come up with a word or phrase that fully describes this missing element. So I decided to attempt to more fully convey the thought through the following brief stories, with a wrap-up section [Today …] at the end of this post.
Back When …
My formative years were the mid 1950s to mid 1960s. During that time there were still news reports relating back to World War II and more currently to the Korean War [or Korean Conflict — I think we never actually officially called that a war]. One of the main things that sticks in my mind from that era is newsreels of factories rapidly gearing up for production of the machines and materials of war, women on production lines, etc. There was a general atmosphere of togetherness — a need to band together to overcome a major threat to our country.
Years Later …
Five years after getting back into industry following almost a decade running my own small business, I got my first executive-level job at age 40. That company had formed a CIO position with the initial charge to convert its flagship hospital’s information technology environment from a very large national shared data center over a thousand miles away and a nine-person local operations support staff, to an “in-house” data center with a full IT staff initially consisting of almost sixty people serving its entire healthcare delivery system. On my first day, I met in a conference room with the nine employees to give them the news and describe the process that would be unfolding — and to attempt to ease any fears I knew they probably had about being terminated. On the latter point, I told them that although the skills we needed going forward were different from the skills they possessed, each and every one of them would be given the opportunity to gain those new skills and fill new positions that would be coming available.
One young man was clearly absorbing every word I said. I remember him [and his name] well, but I’ll give him the made-up name Jimmy Smith here. He was about twenty, and because he was a stutterer he was rather quiet. As we began to post upcoming positions and when they would be filled over the next six months or so, it was clear to me that Jimmy was carefully mapping out a strategy. He signed up for classes we offered, accessed computer-based training tools we made available, came in on his own time to watch construction of the data center, and even rose above his shy tendencies to introduce himself to people involved in that process and ask questions.
To make this story as short as possible and move on to the larger point I’m trying to make, the “bottom line” is that when I left that company five years later to accept broader responsibilities in a much larger company, Jimmy Smith had just been promoted to Lead Day-Shift Operator — not a high-sounding title to some folks, I guess, but several levels from the “bottom” at that time and orders of magnitude higher than the job he was in five years earlier [and a very respected position in data center circles].
One more quick story. In my junior high and early high school years, I ran a newspaper route and mowed lawns to earn money. In my later high school years, I worked in a small grocery store two afternoons a week and all day [14 hours] on Saturdays. A good friend of mine was more industrious — he ran a snowball stand.
So what can these stories tell us? Through them, I’ve tried to describe in a little more depth the glaringly missing element current “goings on” have caused me to recognize. When I look at demonstrators and the signs they carry, and listen to what they say and how they say it, this missing element jumps out at me. I don’t see people like Jimmy Smith, who don’t assume that they are to be recipients of things “somebody” [government, I assume?] is supposed to make available to them — or worse, actually provide to them. Instead, they are thankful that they live in a country in which they can find opportunities to better themselves, find ways to capitalize on those opportunities, and work to achieve whatever goals they set. And, they know [and accept] that there is no guarantee that they will reach any particular level of success to which they may set their sights [they seem to know inherently that the inalienable rights with which they are endowed [by God, not by the government] according to their country’s founding documents are life, liberty and (not happiness, but) the pursuit of happiness]. They proceed anyway, though, because they have within them the missing element I have tried to describe here.
I think we need modern-day equivalents of paper routes and lawn mowing for our young people, and family environments that would encourage them to set goals and find ways to progress toward those goals. Increasing the [now-declining] percentage of those kinds of environments and reducing the percentage of [rapidly-growing] “entitlement” environments for currently-emerging and future generations would produce more Jimmy Smiths — and ultimately, fewer people involved in shouting vitriol in the streets and more people involved in “making America great again”.
Sorry I couldn’t come up with a word or short phrase to describe the missing element — maybe it’s just The American Spirit.
Charles M. Jones