How did we get from ‘way back when’ to now?

Published 9:37 pm Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I don’t think I would surprise anybody these days by making the statement that life in America is getting a little dicey, but the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) folks have gotten me to asking a few questions. I don’t have the answers, I’m just asking, if you know what I mean. For instance, how did we get from “way back when” to now?

Remember way back when a person was expected to be responsible for what he or she might have done?

One of the informal demands of the OWS movement is the forgiveness of all debts. I don’t think they are referring to that version of The Lord’s Prayer that reads, “Forgive us of our debts as we forgive our debtors.” I think they mean that everybody should have forgiveness of all financial obligations, all $65 trillion dollars’ worth!

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I can still remember the first bit of money I borrowed. I must have been a junior in high school and my daddy walked me and my brother up the stairs, they were fire escape, outside-the-building stairs, to Mr. Leo Wilkes’ office in Meigs, Ga. We needed the dollars; I can’t remember how much, maybe a couple hundred, to buy our steers for the Fat Cattle Show.

Daddy co-signed and Mr. Wilkes loaned us the money. He was very nice because of my daddy’s presence, but I am sure the gravity of what we were doing was impressed upon us. As far as I can recall, our reputations were on the line! Our family’s name was at stake. That was way back when a commitment was sacred and to be honored.

How did we go from then to now? What kind of statement does it make for people to really think that they don’t have to be responsible for the pieces of paper they have signed? A house, a car, an appliance, you name it, they cost money and some company has said that it would loan you the money to buy whatever.

The price is no surprise. It is written in plain numbers on the paper. The terms are just as plain. The agreement is to pay a certain amount during a certain time. All is well and the commitment is made. A handshake, along with a signature and promise, means something. Or at least it did way back when.

I’m not blind to life. I can see the rough and tough times and it is evident that the current times are as bad as they have ever been in my life. I don’t really know the answer to all the problems, but it doesn’t seem to me that we can simply dismiss the commitments that we have made.

Many of the OWS people are college students. It must be very frustrating to them to put in the time and effort to go through those years and, then, graduate to an awful jobs market. Not only are they faced with the difficulty of finding a good job, but — uh-oh — the loan that they took out to go to college becomes due.

I cannot remember, exactly, what college tuition costs were way back when, but I was blessed to have parents who wanted to provide for me, as I was glad to provide for my daughter. I will also say that there were many times during college that I worked one or more jobs to offset personal expenses.

In all of my years at the University of Georgia, I attended one football game because I worked at a fried chicken place and the game-day experience for me was frying up hundreds of pieces of chicken for others to enjoy. Believe it or not, I never thought of complaining or protesting that I was missing an entitlement. Instead, I worked for those morning and early afternoon hours with joy and the expectation of money to spend later.

And regarding jobs, they weren’t giving them away so easily when I graduated. I visited many television stations with my resumé in hand and it was politely received and added to the stack of a dozen others. I ended up working at a public television station and my first week’s take-home pay, after receiving my four-year college degree in journalism, was a whopping $65 dollars. But, that was way back when and I didn’t know anything other than I was working and thankful to be doing so.

President Obama doesn’t say a whole lot of things that I agree with, but he recently said something that had the ring of truth about it. He said that Americans had become soft, that we have lost our competitive edge and need to get back on track. It’s true and we ought to admit it. It is important that we admit it.

When the going gets tough, now, we want the government to pick up the slack. It used to be that we were willing to put our noses to the grindstone and do whatever it took to meet the challenge. Now we want to the challenge to be reduced or simply eliminated.

We want to think that we are exceptional, but exceptional people would not be camping out in city parks wanting something for nothing. We don’t feel exceptional; we feel entitled.

It hasn’t always been that way. There was a time, way back when, we worked at whatever we could find to make ends meet. A time, way back when, when our commitments were sacred. For what it’s worth, now is different. The question that occupies my mind is “how did we get from way back when to now?”