Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Standards? What Standards?

Spring has finally come to this New England sanctuary city. The wind stopped, the clouds disappeared and the sun filled up the the sky. The crocuses popped out of the ground and there are buds on everything. I got up and walked away from my Internet connection and spend time with actual, live people. It was a refreshing and life-affirming experience.
My son’s kids were driving their parents a bit crazy; five and three year-olds are experts at doing that, especially now that there is Spring work to be done, both inside and outside of the house. So, it was GrandPops to the rescue, strapping the kids into their car seats, handing them a cookie, and actual 100% juice-boxes to let them know that good times are on the way.
Fifteen minutes later we were in my city, and driving past the newly opened elementary school. As I wrote recently to a friend who lives in a vastly different part of the country, I am quite sure that the price of building this school equalled the entire education budget for his state. We pay a lot of taxes here, and we expect to get things for the money.
The new playground behind the school is amazing. It consists of climbing things, sliding things, spinning things, running areas, ball areas, and even musical structures. The climbing things were nothing like the big wooden platforms of the last decade. Now there are rope climbing, spinning, bridge structures, with bouncing platforms. The kids were thrilled. The park was packed.
It was a relief to be out in the world like this. There were kids and adults in the park of many different colors, with several different accents. They were wildly active, yet were still able to be curious and courteous. The big kids were careful and helpful to the little kids, and the little kids let the big kids move on by. It was great to see. It made me happy and hopeful.
The contrast to the virtual world, even to that here on Medium, and also to many of the interactions I have with adults, especially through businesses, was so striking. Sadly, we are living in a time where so many people keep their hostility and mistrust close to the surface, and let it out much too frequently.
Yes, I live in a bubble. It’s a great one to be in. It’s prosperous, creative, friendly. well-educated and expensive. We are very aware that there are mean, nasty, ugly things going on right around us. These days we hear about and witness more gratuitous acts of bigotry and meanness than two years ago There is also a much greater acceptance of crude behavior in general, and that includes more lying, bullying, cheating and distorting just in order to make a profit. i began writing this before United Airlines decided that it was Ok to drag a paying customer off a plane, and then blame him for being a bad volunteer. The fact that he paid them to sit in that seat didn’t seem to matter.
A short while ago I highlighted a sentence on a post here on Medium that stated that a woman had voted for Trump because of his integrity. This woman has many posts that are provocative, but they are well written and seem to be thoughtful. And I know people voted for Trump for lots of reasons, many of which I disagree with, but I understand their thought process. But when I read that sentence I first thought it was a joke. I still cannot grasp how anyone sees integrity in a man who has just paid $25 million dollars to settle a fraud case, will not show his tax returns, is known to have been sued by thousands of people for not paying his bills, has discriminated against people to make money, and has lied and fabricated stories loudly and publicly for the last thirty years. That use of the word “integrity” bent my mind out of shape.
Certainly, she’s not alone, and I see that standards like that have pervaded the culture. I have had to deal with many people over the last few months as I shopped for certain expensive things I need to by to keep my home running and to keep some members of my family healthy. I can tell you, without the slightest doubt, that almost all of the salesmen I dealt with were charming, friendly and welcoming. They would answer any question and erase any doubts I might have. Except, none of them were really honest.They were trained how to avoid talking about any of the known difficulties with their products, even when directly asked. They skipped mention of things they knew, distorted other things, and rushed the process. It was difficult to get accurate pricing information, even as they continually talked about how much I’d be saving (compared to what?). They also had been trained on how to use my name, keep smiling, compliment me on my knowledge and to up-sell when possible. All charm and technique; no substance.
It’s worse than the old model of “buyer beware” because it’s possible that most of these salespeople know more about me than I can remember. If I’m buying a stove, they know how long I’ve been looking, which ones I’ve looked at, and what I paid for the last one I bought. They have a good idea of what I can afford, how quickly I spend, and my credit score.
It’s worse if your trying to get healthy, because all of the new drugs and medical products don’t have a history. We are all told that the new ones are better than the old ones, but who really gets a good look at all the studies. We only get to read about the best ones; the ones that got the drug approved. Then we get about three pages of tiny print that tells us the possible ways the drug may stop our heart or shut down our liver. How much of a risk is a “slight” risk?
I know, as a therapist, than many people don’t trust their employers much any more. The larger the company, the less it seems they care about their employees. That is not a universal truth, but certainly there is a lot of truth to it. Once “increased shareholder Value” became the accepted goal of corporations, then both customers and employees were demoted being less important people. This has been worse since the recession of 2008. As unemployment rose and it became clear that people were easily replaceable, then the person in the job became less important than just having “a” person in the job. In many jobs, people are being replaced by machines of one sort or another. This is happening in jobs from assembly lines, to call centers, to book translation to doctors. It leaves everyone feeling a bit insecure about their future.
All of this seeps into a lot of areas, and it’s worse because few people trust any of the old, reliable institutions. Everything has become polemic. There are very few places that don’t offer an opinion, and those opinions are all more extreme. Newspapers, TV stations, churches, colleges, police, baristas, chefs, salespeople, finance people, all seem to look at the world through a more distorted lens than before. Everyone has their own agenda. Everyone is talking and almost no one is listening, at least not with an open mind. Everyone has learned to be more suspicious.
My wife and i have always enjoyed traveling. Very often we sit in a small restaurant and we are able to start a conversation with some of the people around us. We have done this many times, and all over the country. We’ve had memorable times in “Boston, in Philadelphia, PA, deep in the heart of Texas, and out near “Frisco Bay, all over St; Louis, and down in New Orleans…”
Everywhere, people are friendly, and mostly proud of where they live. But it’s changed slightly since the election. People try to get a read on each other to see which side you’re on. Everyone seems to feel that the person on the other side of the divide is the cause of lots of trouble. That implies that there there a differences that can’t be discussed, but also can’t be resolved; major differences about what is important in life.
I don’t know how I’d feel these days in the local restaurant in a small town in Indiana. I am sure that all the people would be kind and caring folks, who want what is best for their families and their country. But I’d also be aware that I’m also in the land that created Mike Pence, the new spokesperson for the American version of the Taliban.
How do we get things to improve from this state of affairs? I guess we need to start a dialogue to see if there is any common ground left upon which we can build a bridge across the great divide. Is there a way to create a foundation of respect, civility, and acceptance, with an understanding that despite all our differences. If we don’t get our act together, we will soon be living in an unsafe, unhealthy country, with a bad economy.
Is there anyone out there who would be an acceptable moderator for such a discussion? He or she may be difficult to find.
Stephen Colbet, Bill O’Reilly, Kloe Kardashian, Konya West, LeBron James, Bill Belichick
Lester Holt, Justice John Roberts, Judge Richard Posner, Gov. Charlie Baker
The duo of Niki Haley and Maxine Waters — that might be fun.
Anyone? Any trusted voice of reason who would be respected by 70% of the population?