It is commonplace now to consider that America has birthed the first generation in its history to be less well off than their parents. The evidence is strong. Environmental changes have us scrambling to deal with increasing natural disasters and diminishing natural resources. Economies are concentrating more wealth into fewer hands. Technology keeps promising better lives, but its fascination with more and faster seems to make us needier, not happier. Civil unrest and violence upend societies at home and abroad. Our political and government processes, our citizenry itself, seem inadequate to the challenges at hand. We are a nation and a world, it appears, in decline.
In too many quarters it seems that our lead operating value is small: look out for myself. Abusing the world for the short-term prosperity of what is mine--family, corporation, and nation--is deemed a good thing, an honorable thing, and success is mostly measurable in dollars or the power they grant. But that smallness has consequences. Faced with both mountains and molehills, we often, as businesses, communities, and governments, react to broader reality with the hurtful tools of smallness: hoarding, isolationism, ridicule, violence, waste, and a wake of ruin.
Our small-visioned reactions to reality are often pathetically ineffective and harmfully ill-conceived. We grow insular: Build a wall! We deny reality: Climate change is a hoax! We get cynical: Vote for Trump just to watch the chaos! We lose touch: Greed is good!
But reality remains: we are a global environment. We are a global economy. There is a future. What goes around comes around. And what is going around now is too much not what most of the older generation would wish for their children.
But there it is. The children of myopia and selfishness will surely suffer from climate change and its damage to natural and human-made infrastructures. They will surely suffer from the economic upheaval of abused ecosystems and greed, and the consequent societal turmoil that rips neighborhoods and nations, at home, in the Middle East, and around the world. They will surely suffer from government processes that are rendered undemocratic by the same small greed.
But yet, for all our myopia and selfishness, I do not think that coming generations are doomed to be less well off than their elders. Generation upon generation has prioritized material possession but still reverenced the prosperity of the human heart. We are physical beings and material comfort matters, but human goodness has always been closer to creating happiness. It is possible that history is granting us an opportunity to focus on values higher than those that selfishness propagates.
If we can exercise the best of what is in us, then the possibilities for richness are far from exhausted. We can value generosity more than acquisition. We can value democracy more than power, intelligent compromise more than beating a rival. We can prize sustaining a healthy environment more than wringing product from it, and esteem providing quality more than acquiring profit. We can better balance the needs of being human with the call to being humane. We can live with the intelligence and self-discipline to prioritize building healthy communities. We can avoid the cynicism that declares humans to be small and selfish. We can live with hope, and coming generations can prosper far beyond what the older ones have achieved.
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