By Dr. Denise R. Ames
I remember reading Charles Dickens’ historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, in my high school English class many years ago. This memorable quote opens the book: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…”
At the time, I wondered how all of these different emotions could be expressed at the same time. Now I realize that we are expressing many different emotions all simultaneously—anger, fear, hope, despair, concern, love, and hate. These emotions are not necessarily rational responses to events but bubble up from our deep core of being to burst forth.
Our country was built on a myth: “Work hard, play by the rules and you can achieve the American Dream,” I bought into this myth. I worked hard very hard. As baby boomers, my husband and I built and sold six houses in our early years of marriage, along with our other jobs. It was physically demanding work but we were able to accrue a nice nest egg from our endeavors.
I taught my Gen-X children the same values. They had challenging jobs as teenagers like cleaning the lard barrel at Hardees, “walking beans” to get weeds out on hot summer days, babysitting for long stretches, and cleaning houses.
My children grew up expecting they would achieve the same lifestyle level as I had, but from their experiences they knew it would take dedicated effort and a college education. They learned to be resilient adults. They were able to overcome setback, adversity, and figuring things out on their own. The lessons have stuck with them.
But from my readings and observations, I am learning that Millennials and Gen Z have different expectations about the future. As I see it, they are expecting a similar lifestyle but somehow missing the connection between working hard and achieving rewards. Because of the implications of the American Dream, the current generation assumes that they can have a similar lifestyle as their parents. But the question is how to acquire these expectations without the often boring and repetitive hard work. They have figured out a way.
Along comes the political philosophy of democratic socialism. The politicians promise that the government can provide many of the life’s comforts with little effort from recipients. Free college education, reimbursement of student loan debt, free health care, well-paying and secure jobs, subsidized day care, and a host of other goodies. I remember toiling for a long, hot summer at a potato chip factory to earn enough to pay my tuition and expenses for a year of college. With a little help from my parents, and low-cost tuition, I saved enough money to pay the costs, with lots of grueling over-time and Saturday work. I had some “skin” in the game, I wasn’t going to blow it.
I will continue to blog about the cultural divide in our country in March. My forthcoming book—Divided: Five Colliding Worldviews and How to Navigate Them—describes the cultural divide primarily in the U.S. through the lens of five worldviews—indigenous, traditional, progressive, globalized, and transformative. Ideas from the blogs are explained in the book as well.
About the Author
Dr. Ames’ varied life experiences—scholarly research, teaching, reflections, and extensive travels—have contributed to her balanced and thoughtful perspectives. Earning a doctorate in world history education, she has taught secondary schools, universities, a community college, professional development trainings, and lifelong learners. In 2003, Dr. Ames founded the educational non-profit, Center for Global Awareness, developing globally-focused books and educational resources. She has written seven books, blogs, lesson plans, articles, newsletters, and teaching units for the non-profit and clients.
Dr. Ames is now developing a program called Turn—transformative understanding and reflection network—that encourages life-long learners to see things with new eyes, shift perspectives, and understand the balance in all things. She teaches classes and writes about cross-cultural awareness, indigenous wisdom, a transformative worldview, learning from the past, a mythic journey, and transforming travel.