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OPINION | MASTERSON ONLINE: Yesteryear versus today

by Mike Masterson | December 5, 2020 at 8:58 a.m.

It strikes me that many, perhaps most, of those today who were born to the Greatest Generation of Americans during the aftermath of World War II have a difficult time grasping the widespread apathy, disrespect and selfishness they're witnessing across the nation.

The differences between the perspectives of many youthful citizens and our aging generation seem obvious. I feel the disconnect can be explained in part by the markedly different ways in which we were raised.

During the late 1940s into the '60s, a nuclear family that provided a home for children was considered the norm. Homes were headed by a father and mother who instilled respect and manners as essential and expected traits in their offspring. Many of us baby boomers worked for weekly allowances (learning the value of money).

We ate dinners at a table together, often offering a blessing beforehand. Many were taught the importance of character, honesty and integrity. We recited the pledge in classrooms, sometimes even supplemented by a prayer. We were taught the role of government in our lives while also taking shop or home economics classes to learn how to cope as individually responsible adults.

So when we witness the widespread disrespect, self-absorption, irresponsible and often violent behaviors arising largely from thousands born into more recent generations, it's difficult for many folks raised in those decades past to understand why.

Look, while I'm a far cry from being a psychologist and trying to paint with too wide a brush, I can't help but believe the behavioral changes we witness today lie largely in expectations borne of our experiences placed on a nation of divided families resulting in stressed-out single parents, as well as dramatic changes in the role and focus of our schools and their curriculums.

The expanded drug culture also undoubtedly has taken its toll, along with violent video games and Hollywood films that devalue compassion and faith and try to desensitize reverence for a creator with needless "GDs" and the "f-word" littering their scripts.

By comparison, back in the day, I'd never think to talk back to Mom or Dad. That was a sure-fire way to feel the sting of a leather belt applied squarely to my exposed rump. Using curse words and those blaspheming God resulted in bar soap applied to the mouth or revisiting that belt.

I was expected to regularly perform chores around the house that ranged from taking out the trash to gathering laundry from the hamper. A love of freedom and country were regularly preached. It's clear today that my parents were doing their best to instill a sense of responsibility and commitment.

They always expected to see and sign my report cards. Both cared enough to attended parent/teacher conferences where a bad conduct report from the teachers meant yet another session with the belt back home. In those days, I was expected to be fully accountable for my actions, rather than trying to fault someone else. As with parents, most administrators sided with teachers.

While some among us boomers were spoiled in youth, as a whole we never expected to be coddled or given everything we asked for, which meant we carried a realistic view of existence into adulthood. To a large degree, the teachings of weekly church we attended with parents and Sunday School beforehand played a role in how we learned to treat each other. You know, that Golden Rule thing. I had friends in high school who carried rifles in the rear windows of their pickups. School shootings were unthinkable, as were rashes of mass murders.

In the 1950s and '60s we also found ways to occupy our time in off hours among friends, usually outdoors. As youths we occupied ourselves with diversions such as bowling, rink skating and Saturday matinees with cartoons and serial adventures at the Triple R ranch or with the Long Ranger at the local theater.

That lifestyle only benefited our socialization skills as we grew into adulthood rather than watching wall-sized TVs streaming 24/7 programming, cell phones, laptops or iPads to nullify human interaction and preoccupy our waking moments.

I certainly didn't set out to pick on any particular group today. We humans are complex animals, and so many from yesteryear have their decent and not-so-decent citizens. Yet I can' t help but notice the obvious differences between the early years for us boomers compared with what we are observing today. The differences have become too numerous to catalog here.

The columnist Walter E. Williams, who died this week expressed it well in what may be his final column about the abysmal failures of the Baltimore school system: "Years ago much of the behavior of young people that we see today would have never been tolerated." Couldn't agree more, Walter. Rest in peace.

License free-for-all

A U.S. district judge in California has determined residents there have a constitutional right to put pretty much whatever message they choose on vanity license tags, as long as it isn't obscene or profane or incite violence or hate.

Yep, the state's DMV bureaucrats' previous censorship of what citizens can say on their tags has been a federal violation of freedom of speech and expression.

The judge cited a 2017 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in a case involving a band called The Slants, which said that freedom of speech cannot be barred because it might offend some people. The grossly overreactive catering to someone's distress over words that might create discomfort is ludicrous. Life where I'm from means dressing daily in your big-boy or big-girl pants.

I, for one, also was pleasantly surprised to see the judge in that governmentally restricted state stand up for constitutional liberties. Wonder if "Setmefree" or "Abandnshp" are taken?

Highway double-takes

We could soon be glancing over the crowded interstate lane beside us at an enormous big rig buffeting past with no driver behind the wheel, especially in Texas and across the Southwest.

It's coming, valued readers. And won't such high-speed automation generate a warm sense of highway safety?

A news account the other day said the Texas company TuSimple already is using some self-driving trucks to make long-haul deliveries. And the trend is likely to grow rapidly.

Driverless cars were made legal on Texas roads in 2017. The law allows automated motor vehicles to use Texas highway as long as they are insured and equipped with video recording equipment.

TuSimple is running automated trucks from Arizona to west Texas. A new Fort Worth hub will help the company extend its network to Austin, San Antonio and Houston. The company says it plans to have its nationwide network in place by 2023.

Now go out into the world and treat everyone you meet exactly like you want them to treat you.

Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master's journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

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