“And when you stop and think about it
You won’t believe it’s true
That all the love you’ve been giving
Has all been meant for you.” — Justin Hayward
I’ve seemingly spent the last 14 or so months trying to articulate the same concept. That’s why I seem to be circling back to the same thing over and over again. Each new attempt tries different words and a different tact and each new attempt seems to miss the mark by just enough to bring me back again.
I’ve been trying to describe the sadness of the last five plus years and have failed to grab a hold of it. There’s a nastiness that wasn’t there before. There’s a meanness that wasn’t there before. There’s a cruelty that wasn’t there before. I think each of us understands more acutely than ever that the pain didn’t come from one man. That man has always been a reflection of us. The seeds of our discontent were sewn years before.
The images of whatever this thing is get placed into the child we are preparing for the world. It took me awhile to fully understand that we are not only preparing the child for the world, but we are also giving the world our child. The world becomes an accumulation of all of our children. It becomes an aggregation of those children. It becomes an aggregation of their attitudes. It becomes an aggregation of their hopes, their dreams, and their sacred honor. It becomes an aggregation of their kindness, grace, or lack of kindness or lack of grace.
Civic religion refers to the way we treat each other as people that share this space. Religion obviously has negative energy for some folks, but in this case refers not to a particular God, but a particular mode of thought. In short, it refers to a source for our energy and what it means to be successful in this world.
The hardest lesson we have attempted to teach our daughter is the difference between being kind and being nice. For the life of me, I don’t know if we are being successful. There’s a balance between allowing things to roll off your back and sticking up for yourself. The problem with our civic religion is that self has become way too important. If we are kind then we treat people with kindness, but we don’t allow others to push us around. That balance is nearly impossible to teach.
Since the 1970s, success has slowly but surely been redefined. What we are seeing today is a culmination of that changing definition. I was brought up believing that success was measured by the positive impact that we had on those around us. How many lives have we positively impacted? Have we left a positive foot print on the world? That changed and morphed into what we see today.
The “Me” Generation slowly turned into the “Me Me Me” Generation. Success became about accumulation. It became a measurement of stuff. It became a step on your neighbor if that’s what you need to get more stuff. It became a glorification of the individual. The last five or so years simply became a reflection. Our leaders are a reflection of us. This is what we’ve become. This is an aggregation of the world we’ve created. This is who we are.
We live in a world that measures success by the strength of our devotion. We live in a world that openly brags on those successes as if they are our own. Our civic religion used to say otherwise. It used to say that someone’s success was all of our success and someone’s failure was all of our failure. What happened to the least among us mattered as much as what happened to the greatest among us. The real measure of success comes not in the strength of that devotion, but who or what we are devoted to. If it is only ourselves it matters not how strong it is. It is misplaced anyway.