At least it was for many in my generation. Although much was left to fight for or against, no one felt much like fighting anymore. It was a time of harvest and some, like myself, who were to entering adulthood and the workforce had no sense of priority. It’s not that the previous generation did not show us the way, but to a certain extent that age-old idea that parents want their kids to have a better life than they did was perceived by many as a sense of entitlement to the good life. Tom Wolfe described the 70s as the “me decade” and for this product of that period, it certainly proved to be so. Although this attitude inflicted many, many of them eventually grew out of it. I, however, profoundly confused the good life with the easy life and worked harder at avoiding the necessary work to attain it than the work to attain it would have been. So when the thought that I can just say, “screw it” to my work pops into my head, the insanity of where that will lead me is readily apparent. The good life is not easy – it isn’t supposed to be.
I wrote the following essay for Prosper Magazine back in 2006. It is almost four years old, but it still applies…
The Apathetic Revolution
“I'd love to change the world - but I don't know what to do,
So I'll leave it up to you.”
These lyrics from the 1971 hit by Alvin Lee and Ten Years After turned out to be prophetic indeed. It was the beginning of a time in this country’s history when so much would be redefined. The political and socio-economic fabric of a nation had been unraveled and rewoven, catching many by surprise and leaving others by the wayside. The decompression following the 60s became the time of the hunter, the hunted and the silent.
The uber-morality of the 60s, with the civil rights and equal rights movements… even the peace marches which finally brought an end to the Vietnam War was replaced with a paradigm shift toward the “self-center.” The “good fight” had been won and it was time to regroup, relax and reflect. We fell back into our collective cocoons - and stayed there. Tom Wolfe’s “me decade” of theb 70s became the “me generation;” a status quo that has endured for more than 30 years.
Perhaps it was the ultimate success of these popular uprisings that harkened the coming of the “apathetic revolution” - its battle cry, “It’s none of my business!” We stopped noticing things. Life was comfortable, at least for the silent majority. We wanted to trust our leaders in the face of irrefutable evidence to the contrary. Nixon got us out of Vietnam, made nice with China and nearly got away with Watergate. Had it not been for two nosey reporters… well, no one else paid much attention.
The problem is not that we didn’t learn; some did - too well. Business at every level began to play “follow the leadership.” They added qualifiers, justifiers and rationalizers to redefine that which is right and wrong. The age-old robber-baron practices of days gone by were dressed in new garb only to become the savings and loan debacle turned Enron scandal. Even the recent shenanigans of the likes of Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham went unchecked until he finally tripped over his own greed.
Standard operating procedure is now based on risk assessment. Dirty dealing is nothing of the sort if no one finds out – or if can be lobbied and legislated into law. Morality has become a game of chance; not black or white, but rather shades of risk. It’s ok if the consequences are personally inconsequential. In the quest to obtain wealth and power, anything goes and everyone is fair game. Lawyers continue to argue the letter of the law, never minding its spirit.
Today, news of corruption is virtually a daily occurrence. We’re barely moved when an elected official, civic leader, businessman or even a clergy member gets caught with his or her pants down. Only recently has the punishment begun to fit the white-collar crime. And only then when the sheer magnitude of the offense elicits an outcry. For the vast majority, the risk has proven worth taking.
It’s time to wake up. Our political and business leaders need to know that we, the people, expect them to take the moral high road - and that we are watching. The idealistic visions of utopia of the 60’s have yielded to the all too real apathetic myopia of Lee’s lyrics 35 years later– “So I’ll leave it up to you.”
Who? In his 1961 Inaugural Address, President John F. Kennedy answers: “In your hands, my fellow citizens, more than in mine, will rest the final success or failure of our course.”
I believe he was talking to you.