It’s 2017, let’s talk about something else
Now that it’s 2017, I can’t bear the thought of continuing to fixate on politics and its atmosphere of pomposity and negativity that paints a picture of this country far different from what I encounter in my everyday life. It’s part of my job to cover this stuff, but our lives are about so much more than politics.
During the holiday season I was fortunate to spend quite a bit of time with a lot of young adults — my kids and their friends are all ages 18 to 24, and nephews and nieces were around who are as old as 28. And here’s what I heard from them: they aren’t buying into the vision of a country that is crumbling. Instead, I would argue that it’s the fresh optimism of the young — their belief that they can fix problems others have ignored or caused — that helps fuel this country’s ongoing prosperity.
From the time in early adolescence when it dawned on me that the life I lived would be whatever I was able to create by myself for myself, I embraced the challenge. There was a freedom in not coming from a family where heavy expectations were laid on one from an early age.
So with no pressure from my parents, I actually knew at an early age what I wanted — at least the broad strokes: some measure of adventure, someone to love and share the journey with, and work that was meaningful and subsequently enjoyable.
While celebrating the college graduation of a close family friend over the holidays, I was talking to two young men in their mid-20s when one of them actually asked me what people their age should strive for. I’m a “live and let live” type person, and so am reluctant to offer advice on such an open-ended question. But they asked.
“You’ve got to create the life of your dreams,” I told them. Income and stability will become more important as you age, but if you don’t do what is in your heart while in your 20s, it’s likely you won’t ever do it. Someone once told me it’s better to regret doing something that turned out to be a mistake than to regret doing nothing at all.
Those words of advice, I believe, aren’t that different from what past generations of Americans may have heard.
While each family is unique in their circumstances and their dynamic, we all want our children to live the life of their dreams. My wife, Lori, and I were two who found our careers later than most, and so we have encouraged our children to adventure for a few years before settling down. That career will be much more meaningful if you feel like you’ve lived a little before settling in.
My father probably didn’t hear language like that from his dad, but in his own way that’s what he did. He was of that generation of young Southern men who faced limited career choices despite growing up in a bustling mill town. His dad worked at the textile mill in Cheraw, South Carolina, a town where people spoke simply of “the river” and “the mill” and everyone knew exactly what you meant. Dad was born in 1929, and those mill jobs were a way for his father to escape the vicissitudes of farm life.
But like hundred of thousands of men in similar circumstances, the mill didn’t offer the same promise for my father. The military was the way out. He joined up, saw the world, found a wife and had a family. For men of his generation in the South, that became an often-used path out of a dead-end future in the same mill where his father worked.
More than anything else, the election year of 2016 brought out the worst in too many politicians and too many Americans as we labored to choose a new leader. Perhaps this is what we’ll have every four years now, a replay of the same rancid discourse of this year’s election but with a few startling deviations that take us even deeper into the swamp that, unfortunately, won’t ever be drained.
But the truth is that in towns and cities across the country, things aren’t like a swamp and it doesn’t need draining.
So I’m ready to move on, to focus on different stories, to write about people compelled to live their dreams despite the obstacles, to search for people who feel the only option is to throw caution aside and make their own adventures.
When it comes to individual lives, politics is mostly irrelevant and trivial. We are all much more interesting than our political ideology. So do me a favor and let’s talk about something else. Please?