These Are the Times That Try Men’s Souls–Part I

But There is Hope–Part 1 of 4

Prophetic to say the least.  Famous words from Tom Paine’s “The American Crisis.” So moving, that Washington required it read to his troops at a time that the American cause was in doubt. Regardless, Paine’s inference was clear: the times have always tried men’s souls. Without dedication, without effort, there is no real allegiance, no true commitment. Personal interests can and do, routinely take precedence over greater needs.

…The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us – that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem to lightly. It is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

Whether in the field of battle or not, every era, every generation, has felt it, seen it, and ultimately lived through it. There are those that have demonstrated a true commitment, made the sacrifice, to do something beyond their individual interests. There are others that have taken it all for granted, been too rapped-up in their own stories. They could be accused of obtaining things too cheaply. 

The continuous challenges of life itself is a part of the human condition. At certain moments, the shear speed and accumulated volume of a nations trials and tribulations overwhelm the senses.  In the age of our contemporary accelerations, we tend to lose track of what happened last week, let alone last year. Our own day-to-day comings and goings absorb our waking hours. Demands of careers, of the home, of family, and friends are all consuming. Who has time for anything beyond soundbites, snippets, and the proverbial time-tested catch phrase?  What is it this time? What has “He or She” done now? What little spare time I have, I’m not going to spend it on negativity.

Terms such as protectionism, nationalism, socialism, capitalism, populism, pick your “ism,” are used to insight. Without really understanding the definition of any one of these political, social and economic platforms, one can certainly misconstrue actual context. The application of such terms today are usually intentionally insinuative. Placing blame and fear mongering are purposeful, they can and do become habitual. Who started this fire? Billy Joel had the answer: 

“We didn’t start the fire,

It was always burning

Since the world’s been turning

We didn’t start the fire

No, we didn’t light it

But we tried to fight it”

From time to time, the masters of fear, anger, and self-righteous indignation dominate the public discourse. One could argue this is one of those times. It purposefully confuses and conflates immoral with amoral behavior. By many accounts, the tenor and tone has changed, changed for the worse. I would posit that it fades in and fades out. Our brands have always been nasty. National fatigue probably determines when respites are needed. Yet pervasive escapism through such things as reality TV and celebrity worship seems to feed the visceral needs of way too many. It’s a detachment, an escape from what needs to be done. 

So–thank you social media. Thank you Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram. Thanks for the distractions and assisting in the transmission of self-centered narcissism. Your platforms have been accused of facilitating distrust of everything outside of our own peripheral vision. One could certainly take the position that all of this, this overload, has brought out the worst in us. Who’s to say that the resulting skepticism and self-serving promotion would not have peaked before if today’s technology had been available earlier.  They do provide easy access, an additional den, a theoretical safe place from the pressures outside of our own spheres. 

We know there are big issues out there even if our propensity is avoidance.  Buried in the recesses of our minds are the filing cabinets of memory, both good and bad. Cumulative overload coupled with a purpose of evasion can make the simplest recollection difficult to elicit. “What file was that in again?” In this instance, it takes effort to recall, to think of what has transpired before. Yet it still provides a framework, a perspective, to see through much of the superficial nonsense that clouds the true issues at hand. Try as we may, there are no simple solutions to complex challenges. It’s too easy to be the “summer soldier, the sunshine patriot.”

Yet since we are in the mindset of remembrance, there was a recent time when individuals made the effort to separate fact from fiction. Now the practice of avoidance is measured by not only questioning the facts but even  to go so far to suggest alternative facts. Still others prefer to ignore the facts altogether thinking everyone that cites them always has an ulterior motive. Although few in numbers, they are the so-called opinion setters hiding behind microphones or the veil of anonymity. The result is contemporary fiction motivated by ratings and self-aggrandizement. Although the mode of communication has changed, the motives have really not. Mudslinging political commentary can be traced to the graffiti laden walls of Pompeii let alone the partisan newspapers of yesteryear.  What’s changed is the means, not the purpose.

So, what’s the point of this wrist slitting diatribe? Eventually most people get it. Some level of balance is achieved between personal interests and the greater good. Tenacity and resilience pays off. Intentional theatrical name calling and inuendo, even in temporary moments, gets replaced by adult commentary. Solutions, usually incremental in application, once again begin to address issues that previously had been considered unresolvable. In light of the human urge to resist change, progress does occur. Sometimes our backs have to be up against the wall but in the end, enough is enough. Resistance and complacency is replaced by a call to action. It takes time, energy and courage; after all, “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered.” Historically, the desire to do good and fight evil moves to the forefront. “It is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

After blaming previous compeers for inaction, the majority of each new audacious generation finally gets over itself and rises to the occasion. Greta Thunberg and her eight contemporaries have picked up the climate change gauntlet. Their energy, their enthusiasm and yes their chastisement of their elders are reflective of an earlier time.  It’s a page from the 60’s. I’m taking the opportunity to use those times for comparison. After all, I’m a member of the 1/3 of the country that’s still around to tell the tale. As is now, the problems of those times also seemed insurmountable. Peer perceptions and memories will certainly vary with accounts being influenced by even as little as a five-year variance on one’s date of birth. Color, creed, geographic location, socio-economic status, educational attainment and sexual preference, let alone the level of stability at home, will determine one’s remembrances of those times. Even so, it is history and there is a lot to be learned from it. Edmund Burke and others have tried before to remind us of its importance:

“Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.”

Time did not start the day anyone of us hit the scene. As with many, the responsibility of adulthood sometimes comes too early, before one is either ready or willing to accept it. 

Following these random thoughts, there will be at least two additional essays, or parts, focusing on particular sub-periods of the 60’s. What were those times like? What circumstances were emerging adults facing? What were their diversions?  The more comparisons provided may depict a similarity between the times and generations alike. It is not my purpose to make this a poster board for complaints, a nostalgic walk down memory lane, or jam those that haven’t covered the same distance. It is rather a generalized portrait of an earlier time that clearly is relevant today. It hopefully will reinforce the truths of the time or at least debunk much of its typecasting.  If those of the present-day take the time, they may just discover some useable epiphanies.  If nothing more, a comparison of periods should serve to provide a level of optimism. We got through it didn’t we? Things are mostly better aren’t they? Although debatable by some, the quality of life has indeed improved for the majority of humanity. Information and knowledge has grown almost exponentially. However, our collective capacity to truly understand the data may not have kept pace. A lack of Socratic thinking, a creeping acceptance of amoral behavior and the nations apparent diminishing capacity for empathy are causes for concern. Yet solutions are at hand.  There will always be lessons to be learned. As such, it may help to review the actions and circumstances of times gone by. After all, in the greater scheme of things, 50 years just isn’t that long ago. There were leaders, there were those engaged, there were those that did not “shrink from the service of their county.” Their actions were a demonstration of civic responsibility, a validation of patriotism  that was not proven by just gratuitous flag waving. 


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