By: Wayne Brown
Today’s political atmosphere and climate of entitlement in the United States is a very disappointing scenario to me as a “Baby Boomer” generation adult who grew up in this country watching people work hard for their individual successes with no guarantee that it would ever come. Today, we see college graduates entering the workplace demanding to have a safety net under them so they don’t get hurt if they happen to fail at anything they attempt. Somewhere along the line, we lost it as a country and as a people. Somewhere along the way, we tossed out our self-respect and pride in exchange for a handful of empty promises. For a 200+ year old country, it appears that we have not learned much of value on our journey to the present.
Hearing President Obama speak about wealth redistribution and all the advantages of it reminds me how much his thought processes match those of the “entitlement” society which has been created in this country over time. My dad told me stories of hard times in the south following the Great Depression. He talked of share-cropping and how little real money was around that one could earn. Most people were getting by but even that was a relative success compared to the ones who fell by the wayside and needed a hand up. Even in that level of desperation, those people had their pride and still retained their desire to lose their dependency on others for food and shelter as quickly as they could. Today, we seem to have a different mindset. Pride is out the window as is self-respect when it becomes apparent that there is “free” government money out there to be had just for the asking and getting it is just a matter of “gaming” the system. As a people, we have become far too tolerant of what we see in front of us and we have made it far too easy for those who could care less to take what they want for as long as they want. In many ways, we are nation that condones cheating.
My parents taught me a lot of things as I was growing up. You might say that I was verbally pounded with the reasoning that being a cheat, a liar, a thief, and a drug addict was beyond my reach as a human being. I was to treat people like I wanted to be treated. My word was my bond and I was only as good as my word. My value was measured by what I brought to the table even if it was only a strong back, a desire to work, and a willingness to learn. All those things created a “centerline” in life for me so that no matter how far right or left I might veer, I always knew the way back to the middle of life’s path. Over time, I came to value those lessons and realized that was the true meaning of “protecting one’s good name”. We can never be just who we see in the mirror for others will always have an image of us which we have created for them…good or bad.
There are lessons in life which one can experience that stay with them for a lifetime continuing to be a reminder of right and wrong. When we toss those reminders out like trash, we generally start making the same mistakes over again and again. Mankind, regardless of education level, has the inherent ability to gather information, apply reasoning and common sense and come up with alternative but mankind must apply the process first. Today, we are have a highly educated society yet one does not have to look to hard to see those with intelligence and reasoning coming to stupid conclusions. I find myself wondering if those folks are serving up that level of stupidity just to check the waters around them or if they are actually that short-changed in the area of intelligence and common sense. I cannot think in such terms without remembering Nancy Pelosi’s reasoning of how “unemployment checks” are a stimulus to the economy and growth.
In my college days, I had a particular human experience which has remained with my since that time. The outcome of that experience was very specific but I continually find parallels to it in life thus it is a constant reminder to me in terms of reasoning and common sense. The lesson I learned from the experience always makes me return things to their simple forms….getting down to 2 plus 2 equals 4. When those simple numbers do not add up, then I know that someone out there is attempting to sell me some snake-oil that I do not want.
I had to take a statistics course in order to fill out my graduation requirement for my college degree. I did not relish the idea but there was no getting around it so I signed up praying that it would not be too difficult. In the end, had I understood the difficulty, I would have known that I was probably doomed from the start. Sometimes, not knowing, is a good thing. At any rate, I signed up and said a little prayer hoping that I could get by enough to at least pass the course.
The course was taught by a young whiz-kid Ph.D in his late 20’s. The school operated on the “quarter-system” rather than on the semester concept, so basically there was about three months available to absorb the same course which was taught in other schools on a six-month term. Understanding this, the young professor moved through the material like an out of control wild west brush fire. By the mid-quarter point, the entire class was struggling with the material. The professor had announced that he administer a mid-quarter exam and a final which would establish our grade point for the course. The opportunity for failure was immense on this runaway train that was headed in only one direction and not stopping for anyone.
The class had approximately 50 students in it from all disciplines on the campus. I really did not know anyone in the class except to recognize them as part of the class when I saw them at other places on the campus. Most of us said “hello” as we passed at the post office or in the student center. Occasionally, we would talk briefly about the course and share our misery on how we were struggling to keep up but that was about the depth of it. We all sat in dread of the mid-quarter exam which was rapidly approaching. I studied alone the night before hoping I could get an epiphany in terms of understanding the material well enough to pass by the skin of my teeth. For the first time in life, I was confronting possible failure headlong and I felt helpless as to what I could do about it. I was also in panic because I had never really failed at anything to that point…I didn’t know how to fail and recover but I feared that I was about to learn.
On the day of the mid-quarter exam, the young professor showed up with paper copies of his promised exam in hand. He walked about the classroom passing one out to each of us and then gave us the signal to get started. We had one hour to complete the exam. The questions were constructed as either fill in the blank or multiple choice. On that basis, I had a sense of relief knowing that even a blind hog occasionally finds an acorn. Maybe I would get lucky and make a passing grade simply on the basis of picking the right multiple choice answers. Then an event took place which changed the direction of everything. Having given the signal to begin the test, the professor walked out of the room and closed the door leaving the class totally unsupervised. It was at this point that suddenly everyone in that room was confronted with a new set of alternative. It did not take very long for a large part of them to make their choice in terms of the alternative.
Never before as a student had I witnessed the level of cheating that was going on openly in that classroom. Answers to various questions were being batted about the room. “What is number 23?” was immediately met with a shout of “B”, and on and on. Right there, at that moment, I had to decide if I would be a part of this and maybe pass or if I would ignore it and go it along. I chose the latter reasoning that mama taught me better and besides that, how could I trust their answers…I didn’t know them. I made my bed with conscience and prepared for failure.
When the resulting grades were posted for the exam, it was apparent that there was no single Einstein among us in the class. I made a “D”….barely scrapping by for a pass yet it looked like an “A+” to me as I breathed a sigh of relief. That relief would not last long as the final exam was hovering just a few weeks away. I was still standing very close to the edge of the cliff and could easily still fall into that failure pit. I did take some solace in noting the grades of some of those involved in the cheating….several had failed and most had only barely passed. I failed to see the reward of cheating in the results.
Time ticked away and soon we were within days and hours of taking the final for the course. I ran into other students in the snack bar and asked how they planned to prepare. I was amazed at the most common answer….”hey, we’ll just do what we did the last time…cheat!” It was almost too funny to think about when I realized that someone had to study and bring the information to the test otherwise what would be the reference for the cheating. Here I was confronted with the opportunity to choose once again…cheat or go it alone. I stuck to my choice that I had used earlier….I would go it alone.
On the day of the final, we witnessed a behavior in the young professor which mirrored his actions on the mid-quarter exam. He walked about passing out the individual copies of his multiple page test and when each student had one, he gave us the signal to begin and left the room closing the door behind him. I remember thinking, “how can such a well-educated, intelligent man be so dumb and unaware?” I could not come up with an answer for that one even though the content of the course on which I was being test was heavily steeped in the principles of logic. Once the door was closed, the class fell into a similar pattern of behavior as witnessed at the mid-quarter exam. Questions were shouted out by number only and answers were announced by letter choice for the multiple choice exam. I sat there guessing at the answers still not convinced that what I was hearing had any substance as the “correct answer”.
At the end of the allotted time, the young professor returned and collected the exams. He told us that the grades for the final and the overall grades for the course would be posted outside the classroom within five days. We were to check back occasionally for the results. True to his promise, the results were there on the bulletin board for all to see by the third day. When I arrive there was a small crowd gathered. I moved in close to them in my attempt to find my grade. There were no grades there on the board. Instead, there was an announcement posted which stated: “Due to the large number of discrepancies in the final exam results the grades for the exam are being withheld along with the final grades for the course for all students except the following individuals.” Five names were listed there and among them was mine. I was convinced before I ever showed up to obtain the results that I had failed yet in failure I had passed. The values that my parents had taught me hit home with me hard that day. By completing the course, I had not learned enough about statistics but I had learned a hell of a lot about life and its consequences. That experience is never far from my mind when I make my choices today.
The young professor was also a lot smarter and more intelligent that those great minds in the classroom. He knew what was going to take place when he closed that door and left an unsupervised classroom. In fact, he probably knew statistically what the resulting outcome would be in advance. He had shrewdly passed out multiple versions of multiple-test exam copies on which none of the numbered questions were the same on any two copies. The rationale for accepting the answer for question #23 as choice “B” had flown right out the door when he closed it behind him. On that basis, it was readily apparent to him who had cheated and who had not. In the end, I thought he was a pretty smart guy and it gave me a greater appreciation of the use of statistics in life.
One of the greatest things about the USA is the recognition of our God-given rights to freedom, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. These are rights which the Founding Fathers recognized and acknowledge are granted to mankind by God, and only God can take them away. They clearly made that statement and that awareness apparent in constructing the Bill of Rights. At the same time, there is no mention of a “safety net”, there is not guarantee of success or happiness for that matter. We are free to choose and free to have alternatives from which to choose, and we can cast our own net in terms of the happiness we create for ourselves. We create it….no one else is responsible or accountable in that respect. We have the power to choose our direction in life and we are the ones who reap the results…good or bad. In many ways, it is a very simple concept yet it is ignored by so many who want someone else to decide their fate, guarantee their outcomes, and provide for their happiness. When we look at it from that perspective, it becomes apparent why we are where we are today in this country. Too many parents no longer teach values; too many classrooms emphasize social interaction over the importance of history and principles of our country. That centerline of life’s road which was painted so brightly for me is not as clear for today’s generations. It is no wonder that we have come to this place in the road with so many in our nation willing to throw everything aside for the utopian promises of hope and change….totally ready to undergo a fundamental transformation into something totally undefined. What a shame. What a failure.
Beyond my college days, there were other lesson life taught that come to mind but those are for another time for me to share. For this one, I hope that you will remember that the risk of failure is always before us in anything we do. Given that premise, we cannot allow the possibility of experiencing failure to change who us or our values. The outcome has no worth for we have “cheated” in order to garner achievement or success, both of which will be empty. Sometimes it is truly the failures that we experience in life that reminds us who we are and why. God Bless America!
©Copyright WBrown2012. All Rights Reserved.
20 September 2012