A Nation of Wimps
If you’ve been reading the Stella Awards (no, not that stupid collection of urban legends you got in your e-mail; the TRUE Stella Awards, published by Randy “This is True” Cassingham), you know that we’ve got a real problem in this country with people blaming others for their own stupidity. If you’ve been reading my babblings for a while, you probably remember my comments about the Funsuckers, the people who run around sucking the fun out of everything. We’ve got a real problem with people thinking they should be protected from every conceivable hazard. I think I’ve finally figured out a part of the reason why.
No, it isn’t the lawyers. Yes, trial lawyers eat their young, and the personal-injury leeches who show up on late-night TV promising to get you millions of dollars for being an idiot are the worst of the lot, but tort reform isn’t gonna fix the problem. Besides, do we really want to ask lawyers to fix the problem? Do we really think they will? No, it’s much deeper than that, but let’s start with one little source of the problem.
The problem is we are becoming a nation of wimps. Used to be, if you did something stupid, somebody would say “ooh, that looked like it hurt. Did it?” If you admitted that it did, they’d say “Won’t do that again, willya? See, you’re smarter now. You learned something today.” And that was the end of it. Not anymore. Now, you don’t even get the chance to do anything stupid, and if you do, the pile of safety guards and protective gear you’re using will keep you safe, even if it does prevent you from using the thing properly. But that’s just another symptom. Why are we becoming a nation of wimps?
I suspect that part of the problem is people waiting longer to have kids. Back when I was a kid, people started their families when they were in their early 20s or even younger. Now they’re waiting until their 30s and 40s. But how can this matter? Consider this: when you and your friends climbed up on the roof to jump into the pool, or fought duels with pointy sticks, or played Evel Kinevel on your Schwinn Stingray bikes, your parents were either oblivious or unconcerned; kids will be kids. Ah, but the little old ladies… they had a problem with it. The grannies in the neighborhood went into fluttering conniptions, terrified that you would Fall And Break Your Neck or Put Someone’s Eye Out or Start A Fire. Fortunately, the grannies and other little old ladies had no power. All they could do was twitter and fret while you collected battle scars and stories.
The little old ladies were in their 40s, 50s and 60s…. the same age as the mothers of today. The people who would have been grannies and granpas in the old days are moms and dads now, and that makes all the difference. They’ve forgotten what it was like to be a kid, and they’ve collected a couple of decades of horror stories, and gotten set in their ways, and they’ve slowed down–they can’t keep up with their active tots, so they have to slow THEM down.
My wife works in the after-school program in an affluent community; the kids are the children of scientists, university professors, lawyers, doctors, people in the entertainment industry. These are not stupid people. They’re smart, successful in their careers… and completely paralyzed by fear and worry as only little old ladies can be. There’s one kid, a bright, healthy, active, normal kid. His parents make him wear a helmet to school. There’s nothing wrong with him except that he’s been saddled with parents who are SURE he’s going to end up with a massive head injury. They have a whole shopping list of things he’s not allowed to do; basically anything that looks fun. Fortunately for him, the school staff has more sense than that, and he gets to participate in the normal activities despite the parents’ paranoia.
My bride told me about this, and I thought about it for a while, and finally I asked her how old the parents are. In their 50s. When I explained my theory to her, she told me that all of her most difficult parents are over 40, and all of her most difficult children have parents over 40. I think the kids are difficult because they’re being smothered to death.
But the bigger problem is, these overprotective worrywarts are smothering the rest of us as well. it’s not enough for them to make sure that they don’t eat junk or breathe cigarette smoke, they have to make sure the rest of us don’t either.
Another parent I know told me about a time when she organized a field trip to a museum. One of the parents was completely stricken with terror at the prospect of driving into the city. Not because she’s afraid of driving on the freeway or anything like that; no, this one was petrified at the idea that her kid might see a homeless person. “What will I say?!!?!??” she cried. The idea of having to explain the concept of poverty to her pampered and sheltered little angel practically unhinged her. She thinks she’s doing her kid a favor.
My mom once told me it’s easier to put on shoes than to carpet the world, but these people haven’t heard that. Plus, they compensate for depriving their kids of any kind of character-building risks by indulging them with luxuries. In other words, they are systematically raising a generation of soft, weak, frightened, impatient, spoiled, materialistic, dull-witted, apathetic, selfish children, who will age but never mature. Hothouse flowers. The real world will crush them like daisies.
The upside is, kids like mine will have no trouble taking over the world.