“Everything that was good for you is bad for you and everything that was bad for you is good for you.” That was told to Woody Allen in the movie “Sleeper” when he woke up 200 years in the future. I used to quote Woody Allen all the time when he was dating adults. He taught me to separate greatness of achievement from greatness of character.
Now we have a “yes, but” culture. Everything has a “yes, but’ attached to it. “George Washington was great, but he owned slaves. Thomas Jefferson was brilliant but his life belied the lofty ideals of the Declaration of Independence.” There’s even a publishing company that sends out a disclaimer with every copy of the Constitution saying, “this document was written in an earlier time and reflects the values of that time and if written today would be different.” During the Cold War there was a saying in Russia “the future is known it’s the past that keeps changing” that’s what’s happening here. When I taught American history it was much different. We actually had heroes! In the upside down world we live in being proud of your country is no longer politically correct.
America is special. We are not a nation in the usual sense of the term. To be an American is not to be somebody but to believe in something. We are a country founded on an idea. It is a country that still looks to its founding documents for the answers to current problems and those documents are like, we seniors, more layered and deep with the passing of years. The concepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness don’t age.
When we compare our real country to an ideal that has never existed anywhere, the best becomes the enemy of the good. Our system is horrible except for every other. We do this in our own lives too especially as we age. We can’t appreciate the life we have compared to what we think we could or should have. Don’t “should” on yourself. Happiness isn’t having what you want, it’s wanting what you have. That pursuit of happiness the Declaration talks about begins with gratitude and the age old values -forgiveness, generosity, selflessness, dedication to something larger than oneself that have never been surpassed as the map of a life well lived according to the father of Positive Psychology Martin Seligman.
We live in a time when it is easier to measure more - all you need is a calculator or a W-2 form. We have a version of success defined exclusively in terms of money without any reference to achievement. We have people who are famous just for being famous. Measuring better is much harder it requires values. I believe we already have enough laws we need more good people who grew up with those values to help transmit them to this generation.
Because to quote Woody Allen one more time from his speech to the graduates, “ more than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.”