My blog contains a large number of posts. A few are included in various other publications, or as attached stories and chronicles in my emails; many more are found on loose leaves, while some are written carelessly in margins and blank spaces of my notebooks. Of the last sort most are nonsense, now often unintelligible even when legible, or half-remembered fragments. Enjoy responsibly.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Bigger, Faster, and More EXTREME!!!

Two things that caught my attention this week mixed in my head and formed some sort of strange clarity. The first was a comment made on 60 Minutes by Danish professor Dr. Christianson on why a recent study has named the Danes the happiest people on earth. When they asked if he could explain the study he sited the fact that Danes have expectations that are pretty modest and followed it up with, “You know, I was thinking about what if [sic] it was the opposite and Demark was number 20 and another country was number 1. I’m pretty sure that Danish Television would say, ‘Well, number 20 is not too bad. You know, it’s still in the top 25!’”

The other thing that caught my eye was Extreme Screamin’ Dill Pickle Pringles. Upon first notice I thought, “Why the hell do I need my potato chips to be ‘extreme’”? That was, until a dad wearing a NASCAR hat and a full orange camouflage getup in a grocery store said to his tracksuit-wearing 12 year old son, “No, get that Extreme one. It has more technology in it”. I recoiled, laughed, and looked around to make sure that someone else had heard it. Alas, it was the grocery store at 2pm on a Tuesday and I was the only one to hear the comment.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the dark recesses of my cortex the two things melded and I was forced to ask myself, “Is this why we are never truly happy?” Do we always need things to be bigger, faster, and (Mike help us) more extreme? If we are always chasing what is better, do we never enjoy what we have? Is there a way to end this vicious cycle?

Hmmm a thought problem, let’s step back and look at the differences. We know the US so let’s look back to the 60 Minutes segment to see if there was any information about the Danes that could point out some difference. A couple minutes later I found the corresponding website to the segment and read that all Danish education, through college, is free. They are paid to stay home and raise their children. They have universal healthcare, subsided childcare, and eldercare. There is next to no poverty class and the wealth is spread throughout the close-knit classes. Plus, they have a standard six weeks of vacation and still maintain a higher productivity level than the US. The drawback? They pay 50% taxes.

If countries were people, most of Europe would be in their middle age or slightly older. Africa, the Middle East, and most of South America would still be in their infant to preteen years. And the United States would be a teenager struggling to figure out who they are. I think that Oscar Wilde said it best when he quipped, “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between. “

So as we try to find out who we are here in the US, we constantly redefine what it means to be us. We work to make things bigger so they overshadow our personalities, we make things faster to distract ourselves from standing still, and we need things to be in a constant state of more extremeness because it helps us see ourselves as on the cutting edge and constantly new. That way, we will never really need to figure out who we are since the state of change doubles as an identity.

This inability to slow down and define ourselves (other than as ever-changing), has led to a self-centered culture where we will help only when it is either in our best interests or to help publicly define us as compassionate. Sure, there are certain individuals who do not fit this norm, but the vast majority do. We are a society that chases our own individual American Dreams and never an American Dream for all. Here in the US you either sink or swim on your own; and if you don’t like, your family’s financial standing will let you know how far you have to sink.

I guess that as we age as a country, we will learn to look to one another as assets. Maintaining a healthy life, a strong liberty, and an open pursuit of happiness for all individuals may give us all the chance to thrive, but the only way that we will all see that dream come true is if we care and help each other. If only we were old enough to forget that happiness doesn't come as a result of getting something we don't have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.

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