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I Hope I'm Wrong

 

November 5, 2020

Every now and then I'm tempted to dig out the old crystal ball and try my luck at predicting the future. I really shouldn't, because I have a poor track record. Losing a $100 bet on the World Series a few years ago convinced me that prognostication is not one of my natural skills.

I do better when it comes to guessing the ending of a mystery novel – hint: the killer is always the person you least suspect even when the clues were right there in your face from the first chapter.

Still, it's hard not to take a moment and imagine how things will turn out. Just don't bet a hundred bucks on it.

Based on what I'm seeing right now, the future's not all that bright.

As we were

When it comes to following the rules, I'm mostly a straight arrow. I guess it was the way I was raised; my father and several other relatives served in the military during various wars and their adherence to orders must have trickled down to me. Learning to respect authority and obey the rules and regs just comes naturally.

Don't get me wrong, I have followed a path of mischief from time to time. Like everyone else on the highway, I tend to set my cruise control a few ticks faster than the posted speed limit ... and I've paid the price with a small handful of tickets. I also drank a few adult beverages while underage and I have sampled my fair share of a few herbal delights. But I can honestly say that those confessions sum up my entire history of bad-boy habits.

My parents did a very good job of teaching by example. I watched them, modeled my life based on what I saw, and ... patting myself on the back here ... turned out to be a pretty okay guy. Unfortunately, that also means I have tendencies to pass judgment on others. I really shouldn't, but here goes:

As we are

Over the years, our society has evolved from one that encourages and rewards respect to a nation filled with discontents and scoff-laws. Children learn from a very early age that they can be defiant without consequences, and they take those experiences and build upon them as they age. (Notice that I didn't say, "as they mature," because maturity is one of those attributes of reasonable humans which is hard to come by anymore.)

Children are inherently good. They aren't born with a bad attitude, nor do they emerge from the womb with an automatic dislike of others. But those babies learn quickly, absorbing like sponges the lessons taught to them – directly or subconsciously – by their parents and their peers. To live in America today is to be surrounded by those who trust no one, push back against authority, and demand everything while giving little or nothing at all. Raised in a home where the grown-ups express bad feelings about the world around them, those kids are likely to continue that behavior.

I'll pause here to say that I'm only making general observations. I'm not a psychologist or trained in any scientific field that would make me out to be an expert in child-rearing. I just know what I see and hear, and it's not pretty.

As we will be

Back in my day – I really sound like an old man, don't I? – the last thing we wanted was for our parents to get wind of some troubles that we got into. We didn't want our neighbors complaining to Mom and Dad about our shenanigans, and we most definitely wanted to avoid bad reports from our teachers. Why? Because we knew that the punishment sure to come to our backsides would be memorable if not life-changing.

Today, it's a different story. Parents are more likely to defend their "little angels" and respond harshly to anyone who would raise concerns. Some choose to go face-to-face with these confrontations, others sit at their laptops and post hateful garbage on Facebook. These parents may have learned these antisocial behaviors from the previous generation, or they may be rebelling against their elders. How they got to this point doesn't matter. What's important is how we learn to deal with it all.

This is the moment where you would expect me to toss out a prediction or two about the future of America, since that's the set-up I offered at the beginning of this column. But I think I'll pass on that. Not just because I don't want to get in trouble for losing another hundred dollar bet, but also because I'm afraid that my worst fears will come true.

Editor's Note: Archived columns and resources can be found at Scott's blog, http://www.thenonfictionsection.com.

 

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