Friday, June 09, 2006

Puritan Guilt

Hi! This, my friends, is an opinion piece. It is my own. I claim it. You are more than welcome to disagree and argue because I'm not emotionally invested in it. But I wanted to talk about it and you guys get to be the audience.

According to American history (as I was taught it back in the dark ages) the Puritans left Europe primarily because of religious intolerance. They came here and set up shop during seriously tough times and worked their butts off. According to what I was told, they believed in God, hard work, and that was about it. Probably a pretty good attitude for the time since they had to do things like chop down trees, dig and plant crops by hand and carry water from distant sources. Having gone camping and carried water, it's hard on the lower back. I can see why a heavy duty work ethic would be necessary. Anybody who didn't pull their weight would be a serious burden on people already overburdened. The impression I got from my readings was that the Puritans as a people were pretty damned dour. I can get that too. My back started twinging just thinking about hauling water.

Anyway, a part of our culture is decadent and corrupt. No doubt about it. But another big part of it goes back to those Puritan roots. Americans take less vacation time than people in the other developed countries -- a LOT less vacation time. We also seem to enjoy it less. I have a theory about the reasons for this: (1) we don't stay on vacation long enough to truly relax; and (2) we don't really leave the work behind. We check our e-mails, we take and make "check in" calls to the office. Things like that. Our mind never completely escapes work mode. Recreation is supposed to re-create us as people. That we aren't doing it is leading to some serious consequences.

We're tired. MAJOR tired. (Oh how I relate to this one). Since we're always "on" we have trouble relaxing, have sleep disorders (Oh, I keep reading that we also sleep considerably less hours than our counterparts around the world, too). And this makes us CRANKY and more conservative.

We're less creative. There was a time, once upon a time, when the US led the developing countries in IDEAS. Our art was at least keeping up, maybe ahead. We had some great authors and playwrights, several Nobel Prize types, and on and on. We do okay now, don't get me wrong. But I've seen a serious decline in appreciation of the arts. If you're working all the time, you don't take time to go to movies, plays, read anything that isn't business related. When that happens, you begin to think that the arts are not important, and you start voting to cut the programs that support it in the education system.

The thing is, creative people are creative. They can't help it. If you cut out the only outlets for their creative energy adults will find a way around. Kids... kids get frustrated, depressed, angry and rebellious. They think you're denying WHO THEY ARE and saying that their needs aren't as important as the football players and cheerleaders of the world. With these actions we are telling some of the best and brightest minds of a generation that they have no worth. The strongest and angriest will act out. (Ever wonder why there is a massive drop-out rate among the highly gifted?) The others will wilt, fade into the background, their talents lost to them, and to our culture. I often wonder how much world-class Nobel, Pulitzer and other such caliber work has rotted to dust in the bottom of a cardboard box in somebody's basement, or was never created to begin with because of the insistence that everything be useful NOW.

It's not just the fact that it needs to be useful that's a problem. It's the NOW. Because sometimes when you create something, you don't realize its purpose until long after its come into existence. And sometimes its the act of creation that produces something incredibly useful, just as a happy accident. One of my favorite stories is about Post-it notes.(insert registered trademark here!) Apparently the scientist was trying to come up with a glue that would NEVER break its bond. He failed miserably, got this glue that would stick, unstick, stick again. OK friends, have any of you NOT used a Post-it note? I was a legal secretary. These things controlled my LIFE. Can you tell me that isn't useful?

I hated school. I was a social outcast for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that I was weird. I didn't think like most people. Hell, I still don't. But at least I had art classes, and choir, where I could channel some of that energy. It really bothers me to think how many kids out there don't have that. I ache for them, and I am so incredibly sad for our nation.


Anonymous said...

Very interesting Post Cie, I hear ya on a lot of what you said.

Anonymous said...

i agree with just about everything u said. i'd like to add that the US is way too focused on sports and if ur in chorus or band ur probably not too popular, especially the guys. and just becuz sports bring in more money, if they needed to cut something, it would be our music programs they would cut. However, what u said about the puritans was also true but they also believed that only a few of us were destined to go to Heaven and the rest go to hell and there is nothing we can do about it. They also weren't very tolerant of other religions or the Native Americans. Just thought I'd add that.

Anonymous said...

You have got to see this. Obama playing on XBox. Funniest video ever.