What to Focus Upon When the World is Totally Nuts
Needless to say, the past 12 months have been a mess, for obvious reasons. But are the reasons all that obvious?
Just in case you are aren’t sure, here are my own opinions as to why the world is a bit crazy today.
First, of course, is the Covid-19 pandemic, creating a whole new set of frictions around the world, between countries, between states, between counties and cities, between friends and family members, between political parties, between young and old, etc. Many want any vaccine they can get and cannot get one, and many do not want any vaccine yet are pressured to get one. Many fear that this will not be over for a long time, and many are certain that our lives will never be the same. Isolation is creating all sorts of social problems that we all feel and understand. Not that long ago, we all feared nuclear war, cancer and heart disease and many other diseases and ailments, financial security, the national and global debt, etc. Who would have guessed that most of these now pale (for some) in comparison to COVID-19?
The second reason is also obvious to me, and that is the polarization of the parties and citizens to an extreme, only imagined a decade ago. This polarization is ruining long-time friendships, creating additional stress for many, and discouraging something that we used to value, and that is compromise.
Many blame Trump for this, but for me, it started decades before. I still remember when President Obama was elected the first time in 2008. Even though I did not vote for him, I did have hope that he would bring a new presence and appreciation for the value of all views. But then, right after the 2008 election was over, in addressing congressional Republicans, he said those words that will forever go down in history…. ”elections have consequences – and we won.” This began an eight-year period where his actions and programs served to alienate conservatives, as their view of the world was insulted and discredited. The rebound from those eight years became the Trump movement, with many conservatives feeling as though their opinions and views were no longer heard by our politicians, and they welcomed an outsider running for president. Conservatives were frustrated as taxes continued to rise to fund more and new programs to help those who were not working, and to fund those in other countries that were never funded before. More than anything, the conservatives in 2016 were just fed up with their increasing tax burden being funneled into larger and larger programs, while our border problems were not solved, our national debt grew, and our military engagements seemed to grow into more and more countries.
For conservatives in 2016, having a candidate talk about ‘those forgotten’ outside our urban areas was music to their ears, and Trump rode to victory on the shoulders of conservatives, the employed, rural and suburban Americans, and those tired of higher and higher taxes, more regulations, and more military engagements. Then in 2020, after four years of liberals feeling a similar wrath, the polarization became even worse before and after the election.
The third reason is very obvious to me, although not to all I have engaged on this subject. For as long as I can remember, I truly thought that the press / media / TV / radio did a solid job of reporting the news. Sure, there were left and right-wing spins on some stories, but in the main, the news we all read seemed valid, and as a society, we valued the independence of the media to bring us the stories, the truth, the inside scoop of what was really happening in our country. Then something changed.
News channels emerged that began to broadcast for 24 hours, with huge budgets that could only be financed by large advertisers. Ratings became hugely important as a way to drive advertising revenue. As a result, news stories had to have some sort of shock value, otherwise viewership would wane. Then ownership and consolidation began. Traditional media (newspapers, radio, small local TV stations) lost ad dollars to the huge news networks. Newspapers and smaller news channels discovered that cost reduction was the only hope for survival, so they began to consolidate and used ‘common stories’ and distributed them to their owned newspapers and news channels around the country. Suddenly, it seemed that 80-90% of the newspapers and TV stations were owned by the same news conglomerate. The ‘local, independent’ news channel or newspaper disappeared. Any remaining local newspaper, as an example, today runs most stories that are coming from the USA Today network or the AP.
Then, that news conglomerate began to realize the power it possessed politically. It could spin and create stories to support their vision, and squash stories that did not align with their political views and goals. The news stories we began to read took a sharp and sudden turn to the left. Those disagreeing were slammed directly or indirectly with the power of the press. The editorial page became the home ground of just one party, or so it seemed.
I think all Americans believe in the importance of the First Amendment, including its ‘freedom of the press’. But few could have anticipated that this ‘free press’ would change so dramatically, and so powerfully, to be able to sway the opinions of our citizens through selective news reporting and an increasing output of expert commentary vs. news stories. What is the solution? To me, a clear one is not apparent, but clearly our antitrust division must become more aggressive to break-up the news conglomerates and to stop further mergers. Our legal system will likely have to change in some way to more strongly protect our citizens from the whims of the press to destroy reputations and lives. Add to this the emerging ‘news sources’ of huge social media companies, who also seem to be aligned with the mega-press in terms of party views and disdain for conservatives. How can you not lose sleep thinking about a future where half of our population gets gagged and is not allowed to express opinions via social media posts, letters to the editor, or place ads on TV or radio?
Last, the world is crazy today because in the last 10 years or so, the world did an about-face and changed direction in terms of political systems. Not that long ago, the ‘wall came down’ in Berlin and the threat of communism diminished significantly. China loosened its communist control and began to look and feel like a republic or democracy. It seemed that the world, or most of it anyway, began to align around the idea that capitalism and democracy were, although not perfect, the best political and social systems that the world had seen. Dictators fell, citizens rallied for their freedom around the world, and the quality of life seemed to improve in fits and starts.
But suddenly in 2012 and then again in 2016, we saw a socialist movement gain popularity in the U.S. during election time. Most discounted this, but suddenly, it became a real movement with backing from younger generations especially. Promises of free college, a free ‘minimum income’ sent to all by the government, more social programs, higher taxes to redistribute the wealth from rich to poor, and more open borders to encourage more immigration, caught the interest and attention of Gen X and Y and Millennials, or at least some of them. I wrote an article recently about surveys that now show that the younger generations prefer socialism over capitalism by a small margin!
For a boomer like me who saw, through their lifetime, how well capitalism worked to encourage hard work and entrepreneurship, to foster innovation and new technology that is the envy of the world, to enable the growth and success of a country that became very giving and generous to others and other countries, the recent change in attitudes is an absolute shock that borders on incredulous. How in the world did we get to this place?
So, here I sit contemplating a decision that is not all-that-important to the world or anyone else but me. What should I focus upon next, after completing my first book “Changing Collars”? (that had the goal, by the way, of giving back and helping others navigate their careers more successfully)
Here are my current choices that are ‘in the mix’:
1 – Write a second book about boomers and why boomers are the way that we are. My idea is to feature one person per chapter, telling their story about their life and challenges, what they had to overcome, and how their views were shaped by history. My great hope in such an effort would be to help younger generations understand a bit more about how and why boomers feel about various things, such as capitalism and democracy, what they have enabled in this country, and what common experiences boomers had that influenced the way they think and behave. This one may have a self-serving goal of protecting myself and my age-peers to avoid being cast aside in society or set on the large ‘ice flow’ at a certain age.
2 – Write a second book exploring the history of what changed, and why, regarding capitalism and socialism attitudes in the U.S. and globally. My ‘noble’ goal here would be to help us all understand what has changed related to capitalist opinions and views, what has gone wrong that opened the door to socialist popularity, and perhaps what socialism has done right or wrong in other parts of the world that inspires socialist hope (or not) for younger generations here. This could include an analysis of what happened to our free press and why.
3 – Start a podcast to discuss and explore #1 (boomers) or #2 (socialism vs capitalism) or some other topic. True, a podcast is just a different delivery mechanism vs a book or blog, but there is some allure to the idea of talking about anything a bit ‘off the cuff’ and preserving voices, opinions, and discussions for eternity, and without the barriers of publishers, book companies, bookstores, etc. Plus, I would have a bit more freedom to change topics if I want, week to week.
4 – Focus on music and my very poor guitar and singing skills, with a goal to ‘hit the winery tour’ to sing in remote wine rooms with few patrons, most of whom are talking louder to each other than I could possibly sing. Clearly, #4 will not help anyone in the world with anything, is very self-serving, could damage the ears of patrons, etc., but has the allure of something VERY different and perhaps a focus that will eliminate free time available to worry about #1 thru #3 above.
So, since I cannot easily make this decision myself, I ask you, my friends and readers, which of the above life pursuits would you prioritize for me? For those who send me their votes, I will track those votes, and once I choose one of the four (or other initiative you come up with), those who were ‘winners’ in voting will be placed into a drawing to win something such as a ‘New Toyota’, or is it a ‘New Toy Yoda’? (inside joke there) Seriously, I would appreciate your thoughts and reasons and votes, and I will find a way to have a drawing for something of minimal value for the winner. (if #3 wins, you could be my first guest on my podcast! Or if #4 wins, you could get a front row seat at the wine room at my debut, and you might fill up the entire front row or even the winery! Or if #1 wins, you could be a chapter in my book!)
Please let me know your thoughts at ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’. Thank you!
Daniel Muller is a business executive, expert on white-collar culture and soft skills, and author. To learn more, to contact him, to purchase the book, or to sign-up to his subscriber list, visit his website.
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This best-selling book has hit #1 on his publisher's website in non-fiction. He has spoken to corporations, professional groups, students and clubs about this and other business topics, and is available for podcasts, team or individual consultations, seminars, and speaking engagements, including corporate training programs.