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We're Doing Great, But We Can Do Better

Updated on August 9, 2018
William F. Torpey profile image

Graduated NYU 1963. Worked in NYC in public relations 2 years then as reporter/news editor 32 years at The Hour newspapers. Retired in 2000.

Keep the Pot Boiling!

What about the poor, the downtrodden? The Salvation Army not only cares about them but does everything possible to give them a helping hand.
What about the poor, the downtrodden? The Salvation Army not only cares about them but does everything possible to give them a helping hand.

As the 21st century gets under way, there's a lot to be said about the benefits of being alive at this juncture in history, especially here in the good old U.S.A.

While most of us are far from wealthy, we are, as a whole, enjoying a standard of living that previous generations could only envy.

We have things -- lots of things. Sleek air-conditioned automobiles, designer clothes, television, telephones with answering machines and even, for some of us, a home computer hooked up to the Internet.

We Have Lots of 'Little' Things

More importantly, we have lots of little things -- convenient things that make life a little easier for us; things like electric shavers, automatic dishwashers and -- something our ancestors could not have imagined -- indoor plumbing and facial and toilet tissues. We also have giant shopping centers where we can buy just about anything we'd like -- not to mention, for most of us, access to quality medical care.

More often than not we have a fairly decent job, work 40 hours a week or less, and enjoy time off from work for holidays and vacations. We have checking accounts, stock portfolios, insurance coverage and, when the time comes, retirement accounts, Social Security and a proper burial.

There's a wide range of easy-to-get-to entertainment available to us, whether it's a movie at a local theater or a trip to see Mickey Mouse at Disney Land or Disney World. We can take a drive to Long Island or the New Jersey shore, hop a train to Washington, D.C., to see the Lincoln Memorial or pack our bathing suits and jet to Hawaii, the Virgin Islands or Buenos Aires.

We're Living 'The Life of Riley'

There's no question about it: We've got it made! We're living the "Life of Riley!" Right?

We are certainly enjoying the prosperity that "things" offer us, but, as I remember the "Life of Riley" -- on radio, and, later, on television -- Riley, his wife, Peg, son, Junior, and daughter, Babs, lived in a world far different from the one we live in today.

I, for one, think Riley's world was better.

Things were a little less important in those days.

Families, friends and neighbors were closer. They cared more about one another. They worried less about who had the bigger car, the more impressive job, the more luxurious home or the greater influence.

Most people I knew back then believed it to be important to try to live a moral, decent life, despite the fact that we often failed to achieve our lofty goals.

Ethical and Moral Decline?

It isn't so much that entertainment today has become a steady stream of silly, mindless, sexual farce, or that people, in general, seem to hold little reverence for anything that doesn't offer quick and direct benefits; no, what I find most disconcerting is that so few decry the obvious decline in the ethics and morals we see reflected daily in newspapers, on television and even with friends and neighbors.

Where is the indignation? Where is the cry for something better?

Can we really savor the good fortune of a thriving economy while the disparity between rich and poor grows in leaps and bounds? While thousands are homeless? While large numbers of the world's children go hungry every day?

We can do better.

I wrote this column as a "My View" for The Hour newspaper of Norwalk, Conn., on March 9, 2000. I now write my views on a wide variety of topics on HubPages.

Are We Really Living the 'Life of Riley?'

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Do Amerians Focus Too Much on "Things?"

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Brother, Can You Spare a Dime? (Bing Crosby)


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    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      2 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      You and I are on the same page, Peggy, for sure. While the 1940s and '50s were not so great for many (I'm thinking of WW II, much prejudice and poverty -- which still exists) we lived, as kids, in safe neighborhoods where we played with our friends and neighbors on the streets and in the parks; we explored our towns and cities and enjoyed great radio shows and double feature movies at affordable prices as well as local ball parks, municipal swimming pools and (for some of us) swimming, fishing and crabbing in the Hudson River. While many of us lived on the edge of poverty we somehow managed one way or another. Personally, if I could go back in time to those "good old days" I'd go back in a New York minute.

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 

      2 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I agree 100% with your assessment and can see that the people who have voted in your polls do also. Times were much simpler back in the days of "The Life of Riley", "Father Knows Best", "Lassie", "Leave it to Beaver", "I Love Lucy" and "The Perry Como Show" to mention just a few of the television shows back then. Families and neighbors interacted with one another and helped one another. Ownership of things was not as important. I would happily part with many items of convenience to go back to those days where relationships were more valued.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thanks, Shirley, for your very thoughtful comment. I think the confusion over the two different hubs stems from the many different meanings and definitions of "good." This dictionary reference is worth a look:

      I don't believe living in a democracy necessarily has to be detrimental to the poor. Even under an essentially capitalist system, the poor would fare better, and more fairly, with minimum wage laws, proper union representation, and laws preventing unfair, greedy and improper activities by large corporations, especially banks, oil companies, brokerage houses and various other financial organizations. Children today not only grow up with less support from extended family, but also many disruptions of their lives brought about by changes in employment be both parents as well as sometimes frequent moves from town to town and school to school. It's a lot different from what it was only a few decades ago. I enjoyed your "rant," and I'm glad you noticed Bing.

    • Shirley Anderson profile image

      Shirley Anderson 

      12 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      William, when I saw the title of this hub in the hubtivity list, I was confused.  First, there was, "Good Enough is Good Enough" (sorry, if I don't have the exact wording).  Now, "...We Can Do Better."  Of course, once I read this one, I understood.

      I believe that you have a very healthy perspective on life and decency.  We in North America have a priviledged lifestyle that is the envy of most folks living in the abject poverty of third world nations.  While they scrounge for enough food to keep their babies alive, we buy things we don't really need and don't have enough money for.

      I'm not saying that we shouldn't own material things, not at all.  But many of us have trapped ourselves with our own abundance.  We've overspent, overextended, and have become overworked because we've overspent and overextended.  All for things.  There are extenuating circumstances of course - family illness, etc.  For the most part though, there seems to me to be three classes of people in North America:  the poor, the poor only because they're debt-ridden, the rich. 

      You're right, of course, the gap between poor and rich is large.  As we live in a democracy, I don't know how that can change.  My preference would be to see those who need it to thrive and prosper, naturally. 

      Re the family unit and tight knit communities of the past, yes that certainly has changed a ton.  I'm not sure that's entirely a bad thing.  People feel freer to see and experience new people, places and things than they did in previous generations.  What has suffered though, I guess, is today's children not knowing what it's like to grow up in an extended family.

      Thx for letting me have my rant, William.

      P.S. Nice way to work Bing into the mix!

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thank you, compu-smart, I share your hope that for a brighter future.

    • compu-smart profile image

      Tony Sky 

      12 years ago from London UK

      Great article William and comments here William!

      I too love everything past. The present and future, considering lots of things, does not look too bright!> i know we can do better and hope we actually do!

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      It's true, einron, that one's perspective has a significant impact on how we perceive our times. But the social structure and environment we are presented with makes a difference, too. A few decades ago families pretty much lived and worked in the same area among friends and neighbors for decades. Today people go where the jobs are, which generally scatters families throughout the country. My life, for instance, is typical. I have friends and relatives in Maine, New York, Florida, South Carolina, California, Tennessee, Georgia and Connecticut. In my earlier days, all my friends were in Yonkers, N.Y. One can be happy anywhere, but, personally, I'd be happier if all my friends and relatives were nearby.

    • einron profile image


      12 years ago from Toronto, Ontario, CANADA

      The older folk always says, "The good old days." It could be true in some ways, and as for the present, "There are good times too. It depends on how you see it.

      It depends on one's attitude towards life. If you are a happy go lucky guy, everything is hunky dory. If you are a grouch, nothing is good. The sun may be shining but the grouch still has complaints and cannot see the bright side of things.

      God bless.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      In our democracy, marisuewrites, it's the job of every citizen to keep our politicians informed and honest. There's no place for apathy. If we don't offer a hand to the helpless, who will? If we don't stand up for our rights, we will surely find ourselves without any rights. Thank you for your kind remarks.

    • marisuewrites profile image


      12 years ago from USA

      We can do and be better, though I think the individual American is hard working, caring and sharing minded; collectively, politically, we have become in the recent past apathetic and over-whelmed, though this campaign has re-newed interest in millions. Progress and convenience causes us to not work out the details in those social areas of our life; even the political areas and we've seen the outcome of letting Washington figure it out. Yikes! I hope we now will become more involved watchers and keepers of the kingdom.

      great hub and thanks for trying to wake us up to what's important!!!

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      I understand Mighty Mom and t.keeley. I'm in Long Island now, but I grew up as a boy in Yonkers, where I lived in dozens of locations but mostly overlooking the Hudson River (and for years looking at Hitler's Face that was carved into the Palisades by a landslide that was visible throughout World War II.) For the five decades I lived in Connecticut, I yearned for the many wonders of New York. Thanks for your welcome comments.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Thank you, SharpBrains. There are many daily reminders of what's really important in life, one of which is a veterans Stand Down here in Nassau County, N.Y., on Nov. 24, when volunteers will gather in the Freeport Armory to give a hand up to displaced veterans.

    • t.keeley profile image


      12 years ago from Philadelphia, PA

      I second Might Mom's comment 100%

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      12 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      Bingo has a way of making poverty sound so swell. Wonder who should be singing the 2008 equivalent? Hmmm.

      William, Nope. I'm a Robert Moses gal (West End 1 or 2 preferably). The only Long Beach I've been to is the one south of LA. I'm sure the one near you is much, much nicer:-)! But just thinking about the suburbs of NYC reminds me of a kinder, gentler time (50s,60s,70s).

    • SharpBrains profile image


      12 years ago from San Francisco, Calif.

      Another great hub that reminds me what's important in life. I loved the video -- priceless and not too far from today's reality, especially here in the NYC suburbs.

    • William F. Torpey profile imageAUTHOR

      William F Torpey 

      12 years ago from South Valley Stream, N.Y.

      Bob......We agree 100 percent on that one!

    • profile image


      12 years ago

      Bill.....I'll take the 40's and 50's again anytime .

    • Mighty Mom profile image

      Susan Reid 

      12 years ago from Where Left is Right, CA

      William, it was true when you wrote it in 2000 and is even more true in 2008. Today we have more things and less quality of life. I hope that the meltdown on Wall Street and this economic downturn (polite term) will force all of us to reexamine what is important. Simplify, simplify, simplify!

      And the idea of taking a ride out on Long Island sounds like HEAVEN to me right now. Jones Beach off-season. Ahhhh. That's living!


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