Thursday, December 31, 2009

This New Decade Will Be What We Make It

If you are one of those who don't accept that 2010 is the beginning of a new decade, that's fine. You don't have to convince me. Personally, I'm trying to understand why 2011 doesn't start a new decade. But that's neither here nor there.

The video above, shows that we have been through ALOT, in the past ten years. So much so its dizzying. It seems like only yesterday that we were holding our collective breath, wondering what 'y2k' was going to be. Many expected a technological meltdown. There were some who believed that the 21st century would signal the end of the world. I remember that our 'watch night' services, were pretty scarcely attended for years, even when we began having joint services with my father's church. But when the year 2000 was about to dawn, the place was packed!

There is so much that we could never have imagined: September 11; the Iran AND the Afghanistan wars; the first Black president; the economic meltdown...whew! And that's just the top of mind stuff!

I'm always optimistic at the beginning of a new year. New decades for me, are exceptionally exciting. They are the borders we cross into new frontiers. Good things and bad things are bound to happen and the past becomes a foundation upon which we build the rest of our lives. That foundation can be built out of materials of anticipation and hope. It's great to have more time to fix what could be fixed and get on with the adventure of living.

All that being considered, I was a little jarred when TIME magazine described the first decade of the 21st century as 'The Decade from Hell'.

"Calling the 2000s "the worst" may seem an overwrought label in a decade in which we fought no major wars, in historical terms. It is a sadly appropriate term for the families of the thousands of 9/11 victims and soldiers and others killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the lack of a large-scale armed conflict makes these past 10 years stand out that much more. This decade was as awful as any peacetime decade in the nation's entire history. Between the West's ongoing struggle against radical Islam and our recent near-death economic experience — trends that have largely skirted much of the developing world — it's no wonder we feel as if we've been through a 10-year gauntlet. Americans may have the darkest view of recent history, since it's in the U.S. that the effects of those trends have been most acute. If you live in Brazil or China, you have had a pretty good decade economically. Once, we were the sunniest and most optimistic of nations. No longer."

Economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman calls the past ten years, 'The Decade of Zero!

"...from an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true."

"It was a decade with basically zero job creation. O.K., the headline employment number for December 2009 will be slightly higher than that for December 1999, but only slightly. And private-sector employment has actually declined — the first decade on record in which that happened."

And a recent article citing a poll on the country's mood as we go into 2010, describes the majority of Americans' attitude at the end of this decade, 'gloomy'.

Again, its been a tough decade for our country. We begin the next 10 years, a country in greater debt; with high unemployment; growing poverty; a shrinking middle class; more partisan and less civil than we've probably ever been. At the same time we are changing - culturally, in our domestic politics, in our relationships with the rest of the world, economically, in virtually every way imaginable.

I think that what we are learning in this country, is something that we teach our children: we have to share.

We have to share resources

We have to share power

We have to share this planet

Our sense of entitlement has been shaken. Andyy Serwer's article pinpoints the ways in which we contributed to many of our own problems:

"In large part, we have ourselves to blame. If you look at the underlying causes of some of the most troubling developments of the decade, you can see some striking common denominators. The raft of financial problems, our war with radical Islam, the collapse of GM and much of our domestic auto industry and even the devastation brought about by Katrina all came about at least in part or were greatly exacerbated by:

• Neglect. Our inward-looking culture didn't heed the warning signs from around the world — and from within our own country — that Islamic terrorism was heading for our shores.

• Greed. Our absolute faith in the markets, fed by Wall Street, combined with the declawing of our regulators to undermine our financial system.

• Self-interest. The auto industry disintegrated while management and labor tangoed from one bad contract to the next, ignoring their customers and their competition, aided and abetted by their respective politicians.

• Deferral of responsibility. Our power grid needs an upgrade and our bridges are falling down because we have not mustered the political and popular willpower to fix them. New Orleans drowned because authorities failed to act before Katrina busted the inadequate levees."

"It was almost as if we as a nation said in previous decades, "Why do today what we can put off until the first decade of the 21st century?" But we didn't rise to those challenges. What we just lived through, then, was the chickens coming home to roost."

There are some reactionaries who feel as if any criticism of America is something less than patriotic. The facts are, we cannot return to the policies that have produced the problems we wrestle with today. But the unfamiliar terrain of the next decade can bring about an America that is more substantial than in past.

"There is no guarantee that the next decade (get ready for the Teens!) will be any better than this one. It's likely that China will continue to grow faster than the U.S., and we may continue to see our global dominance erode. But very significantly, we still hold many of the world's trump cards. We still have the world's strongest military, which means we can and must lead in maintaining order and crafting peace. We are the leaders in technological innovation. And we are still the nation that most others emulate. If we remember those points and avoid the easy outs of deferral and neglect, then the next decade should be a helluva lot better than the last one."

I have tremendous confidence in our country's capacity to reset itself. To recommit itself to fundamental values which really made us great. I'm not talking about the return to the pursuit of economic and military superiority in the world. Nor am I talking about the superficial translation of our children 'doing better' than their parents, being evidenced in a mindless hunt for material gain and wealth.

There are values that we've extolled that throughout our history that committed patriots have pursued at great cost. Those who did so thought that an America with citizens committed to the public good; to make ours a land where we could fulfill personal ambitions along the lines of excellence in ways transformed society in ways that not only enriched people but enobled society; where we genuinely cared for one another; where capitalism didn't have to be predatory; where we recognized that the lofty ambitions espoused in the constitution were ambitions that we had to willfully and intentionally grow in to and not take for granted.

This country has never been perfect. It has never fully realized its creed. But what we tend to forget is that we've been at our best when we've stretched ourselves towards those ends.

There is a segment of this country - a vocal and visible section - that is angry, disenchanted and afraid. Partly because, as the proverb says, we've climbed a ladder and found out it was leaning against the wrong wall. But another year, means we have time to get it right.

The economy will come back. The anger and bitterness will lessen. We will begin to discover tolerance. The wars will come to an end. And we'll begin to see some of our other great problems solved. But we have to work at it.


I'm looking forward to the next decade already!

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