What’s Wrong with America’s Youth

The 1960’s were a time of revolution. Phrases such as “give peace a chance,” “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country” and “I have a dream” infiltrated our minds and hearts via the radio and television. It was a time when men and women rose up by the millions to fight war, corruption and injustice with love, community and rock and roll. We were a country on fire with freedom, and it was spectacular to watch! Many a night at the dinner table, my parents would talk about the exciting time of the ’60s. How the people fought against the war, fought for civil rights and how groovy it was to love and be loved. Once dinner ended we would retire to the living room with desert and watch the latest episode of Hart to Hart. I loved listening to those stories. They were full of idealism, excitement and heroes. It wasn’t until I became much older that I realized the stories told by my parents weren’t stories at all, but real events that happened to real people. There was a draft, there was war, there was revolution and then… there was the 1970s.

The Beatles broke up, the war ended, Watergate, Carter was elected and Mork and Mindy made us laugh. Time moved on, and with it came a shift in people, values and ideals. Democracy grew into a philosophy told in stories at dinnertime, while capitalism became the new religion. Houses grew bigger, credit lines grew longer and children were born in affluence with a signed consent of entitlement. So, now in 2005, America finds itself in yet another war. However, unlike the revolution, love and rock and roll of the 1960’s, the youth of today seem more concerned with video games, Brad and Jen’s break up or the latest reality show extravaganza. In a short 40 years, America has gone from a conscience rebellion to a more cavalier swagger on the issues of life and politics. How did this happen? Where did we go wrong?

While in college I studied History. Just like at the dinner table I would listen in awe while the professor spoke of great American leaders such at Martin Luther King Jr, Malcolm X, John F. Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. As he touched on their ideals, ambitions and accomplishments, I would feel a surge of excitement and courage run though my body and out my limbs. Though fearless eyes and unwavering faith, these men changed the world, but not for themselves. They unselfishly struggled and fought with a profound belief in the individual. With their heart on their sleeve, they asked for men to lie down their prejudice, join together and build a better future.

It was the mass media’s that best capture the glory and turmoil of the 1960’s. Had it not been for the mass media, John F. Kennedy would have never seen the crimes of Selma, America would have never seen Martin Luther King Jr’s walk on Washington or the havoc of the Vietnam War. The 1960’s mark the first time in history when people were given a first hand view of life on life’s terms, and it forever changed how we viewed ourselves, our neighbors and our future.

By 1974 the mass medias interest in the Civil Rights movement and Vietnam War change to the Watergate trials and episodes of All in the Family. By the 1980’s there was no longer a declared war, or even a police action, and media attention turned to capital progress and money. By the 1990’s war became a story in history books, and MTV a permanent fixture in most two working parent homes.

The rise and fall of great leaders and great nations is not a new story. Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, England… the list goes on. Progress is the enviable doom of every great nation. Revolution leads to capitalism, capitalism to affluence, affluence to apathy, and apathy led to 2000 year old Rome falling to ruins in less then a week. When the American leaders of the 1960’s were suspiciously murdered we accepted it, when our values shifted we embraced it and when the affects of our apathy disgusted us we turned to gossip TV, video games and health clubs. Therefore, when it comes to the atrocities of war, it is ridiculous to ask or expect the youth of today to embrace the same political passion evoked in the 1960’s, when the power of the 1960’s is now respected as a nothing more then a media fad.

Through the art of capitalism America has developed into a society of fat cats. Despite the fact, we are still acutely aware that revolution is important, freedom a gift and politics a necessity. However, the undertaking of revolution at the cost of affluence is something that is not embraced with excitement. So, the real question regarding the status of American apathy is, are their ways to reverse the affects of affluence — absolutely!

When I was 15 years old I lead a coup on my gym teacher while in gym class. She had asked the students to do an activity I frankly wasn’t in the mood to do. So, I informed her that her request was not in line with my mood and promptly dismissed myself. Little did I know that the entire gym class agreed with my opinion and one by one followed me off the field. Such a feeling of power came over me. I had influenced 30 students to act on my words. When I arrived home from school that afternoon I was confronted by my stepmother. She asked what had happened and I told her in specific detail how I had acted as a god, saving 30 students from destruction and injustice. She smiled proudly and then grounded me for a week. I was shocked! How could she ground someone who had successfully exercised their First Amendment Rights with such grace and articulation? As I stomped to my room I was convinced that my stepmother was a one man army trying to keep “the man” down. Later that evening, my stepmother explained that her punishment wasn’t about keeping anybody down. She wanted me to understand that glory and responsibility go hand in hand. Although it takes great courage to question authority, it takes even grater character to respect it. If there is something about my life, my family, my country that I don’t like, by law I have been given the power to change it, but unbridled and undirected change can only lead to anarchy. A person’s objective must be crystal clear, and intentions must be pure, if they are to lead any nation unto freedom.

If we want to see a better youth in this country then we’ve got to be better leaders. The buck stops here. Turn off your TV. Get to know your neighbor. Cut up your credit card. Live with less, value more. That is the revolution of the future! The leaders, the events the change that occurred in the 1960’s was not a fad, it a magnificent blue print of how to live and die with integrity and value. It is our duty as a human race to remember that and pass it on.

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