Growing up on the streets of Brooklyn – back when New York’s largest borough was a lot less trendy than it is today – you couldn’t find a basketball court or baseball field that wasn’t packed with kids playing ball, weather permitting. Sports were a way of life.
On old friend who still lives there came out to visit a few weeks ago. He says he walks by the courts and fields we grew up hanging out at all the time. Nobody uses them anymore. The kids are all inside playing games and messaging each other.
The same is true here in Silicon Valley. I like to run, hike and shoot hoops to stay in shape, so I’m always running around the bedroom community where I live at various times of day. Every residential street has plenty of basketball hoops but I’ve never seen anyone playing at them. And unless there’s a league game, the fields and courts are all deserted when school is out.
I know what you’re thinking. This is not news. Childhood obesity is an epidemic. And why is this guy telling us what we already know? He’s preaching to the choir.
Well here’s the thing. While we’ve all grown accustomed to hearing each other complain about our kids’ habits and behavior, I’ve never once heard an adult say, “You know, we did this to them. We taught them those habits. They learned that behavior from us. It’s all our fault, one hundred percent.” Not once.
That’s not just nuts. It’s telling. And the story it tells is a distressing one.
We complain about how we can’t pry our kids away from the tech, from their gadgets, but the kids didn’t design and build those PCs, game machines and smartphones. They didn’t buy them and all the games, apps, and cellular contracts on a credit card. We did that.
The childhood obesity rate tripled from 1971 to 2011 and, today, about a third of our kids and teens are overweight or obese, according to the American Heart Association. Parents blame teachers, teachers blame parents, and everyone points fingers at McDonald’s (NYSE:MCD) and Coca-Cola (NYSE:KO). But the kids aren’t buying the food, cooking the meals and driving themselves to restaurants. We do all of that for them.
Speaking of schools, we all whine about the education system being broken, but who do you think broke it? The kids didn’t break it. Sure, overzealous politicians, bureaucrats and administrators played a big role, but they’re not kids. They’re adults. They’re us, or at least they were elected and paid by us. We broke it.
As for doping up our kids on massive amounts of amphetamines for just being kids, they don’t develop the drugs, diagnose themselves with ADHD and write prescriptions. They don’t administer enough speed to themselves for every man, woman and child in America to consume an average of 80s doses a year. We do that.
Wait, it gets better. The reason why we do all this to our kids is because we’re also doing all the same stuff to ourselves. We’re antisocial, overweight, drugged out, entitled, tech and social media addicts ourselves. Even if we tried the old “do as I say, not as I do” standard, kids are smart enough to see right through the hypocrisy. They’ll learn that behavior just the same.
Now we have Millennials in the workforce and all you hear is how entitled, indebted, and underemployed they are. Gee, I wonder how they got that way? Wait, you don’t think it had anything to do with us, do you? Nah, that’s just crazy talk.
Now I bet a lot of you are sitting there right now thinking, OK smart guy, if you think you’ve got all this figured out then what, pray tell, is causing us to do all this bad stuff? Is it Silicon Valley? The federal government? The left? The right? A conspiracy by the one percent to keep the average joe down?
That’s the irony. It’s none of those things. It’s each and every one of us making bad choices and then looking around for people to blame. Simple as that.
Powerful cultural trends like these don’t just happen. They happen one person at a time, one day at a time, one bad decision at a time. They happen when we don’t hold ourselves accountable for our actions. They happen when we chronically behave badly and live in a constant state of denial about it.
Margaret Thatcher once said, “There is no such thing as society: there are individual men and women, and there are families.” That simple revelation has far reaching implications. Government can’t fix society’s problems. No entity can. Each and every one of us is personally responsible for the actions we take and the choices we make.
At least, that’s as it should be. But that hasn’t been the case for a very long time. We’ve abdicated that responsibility. And now we complain that America’s in trouble. That big government is the problem. Both are true, but I’ll give you one guess how that happened? That’s right. We did that.