“Liberty means responsibility. That’s why men dread it.” — George Bernard Shaw.
With so many protesting the dysfunction of much of our government, and with the serious angst of so many of the American people, it seems that James Patterson’s and Peter Kim’s 1991 book. “The Day America Told the Truth,” still applies even today. It can still help us understand the great many Americans who are flailing away, feeling alone and insecure in a sea of disillusionment.
Many Americans are anxiously waiting for someone to throw us a life preserver labeled “leadership” while rapidly being carried farther out to sea by a tidal wave of opportunistic politicians and greedy corporate interests making a mockery of democracy and the free enterprise system. And then there are those who are mindlessly swimming along with the tide, focused only on their own goals and oblivious to the sharks in the water. After reading the book, one is convinced of what has raised our suspicions for a long time — that a great many Americans are disastrously inept at rowing their own boats, often sailing aimlessly, completely without a rudder (Pass the Dramamine!).
“Americans believe, across the board,” say the authors, that our current political, religious and business leaders have failed us” (Well, maybe not everyone). But it’s very sad that so many of us feel so alone in such a large crowd, feeling ineffective, so unable to make a difference. Most disturbing, those findings lead to despair and hopelessness that can allow the aforementioned political and corporate leaders to increasingly have their way with us.
The authors also found that, in general (as today), Americans were focused primarily on themselves and not the total picture. For instance, when asked: “If you could change one thing about your life, what would it be?” 65 percent said wealth, 45 percent education, 43 percent their current job, and on and on. “Better person” comes down at the bottom. When asked to describe their ideal self, the answers were similarly focused externally. Wealthier, thinner, better body, younger, prettier/handsomer topped the list.
Many of the people interviewed for the book complained that the United States is becoming a greedier, meaner, colder, more selfish and more uncaring place. They considered a “letdown in moral values” the number one problem facing our country. Most of the people the authors interviewed believe that America had no moral leadership — that our political and moral leaders have let us down dreadfully and that they have failed to provide the kind of leadership that this country must have to remain strong. We are told that Americans were giving up on the possibility of ever finding leaders in whom they could believe — the kind that would take the initiative to give them a sense of purpose, a grasp of reality, a feeling that they, as average Americans, counted (Remind you of 2019?).
It’s such a tragedy that those interviewed for the book (and a great many today) didn’t seem to realize what they, as individuals, may have had to do with this. They didn’t see (or didn’t want to see) that our behavior and attitudes have much to do with the dysfunction of our society and that many of our institutions reflect our lackadaisical concern with ethics, integrity, etc.
This seems to be related to the most disturbing finding in the book — that many Americans were very unrealistic. Most believed that their own futures would be fine and dandy. “They have become so alienated from the whole that they think they will be individually immune from the fate they believe will befall the nation as a whole,” wrote the authors. Maybe it was necessary for them to think that way to save their sanity, but what does this portend for the future? And the future is now!
As you can see, the picture painted by Patterson and Kim isn’t pretty. It was depressing to read their findings, but more of us need to face reality and become aware of what is ailing so many of us as individuals and as a society. There is nothing that can bring us out of our doldrums faster that an honest, open-minded appraisal of such problems and then taking steps needed to solve them. Many Americans have been trying, but there is obviously a lack of appropriate leadership to help us row our leaky boats.
“We could, if we cared enough and had courage enough, create a climate of life through which human beings could so change themselves to be capable of solving the problems that beset and terrify us.” — Eda J. LeShan.
Since 1984, Dorothy Dimitre has written more than 1,000 columns for various local newspapers. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.