Historically, we see that a nation can survive a multiplicity of disasters, war, invasion, and disease, but no nation has ever been able to survive the disintegration of the family and the home.
July 18th, 1997. It was a picture-perfect day in Laguna Beach, CA, only 11 days before my 26th birthday. Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined I would be assaulted by a deadly Pit-bull and a demented Generation Xer that day.
I was relaxing. Taking a break from the appointments of the day and taking advantage of one of my favorite locations. I sat on a bench overlooking the world-renowned Laguna Beach cove. That day, hundreds of tourists and beach-goers were swarming about the beach, swimming in the surf, strolling along the boardwalk, eating lunch on the grass, and watching the heated volleyball and basketball games. I had an hour to spare and was taking it all in and had settled down with a good book.
Suddenly, my thoughts were interrupted by loud and ferocious barking. A Pit-bull was attacking a Siberian husky on a leash walking along with its master. I watched as the two dog owners struggled to separate the animals. The owner of the Pit-bull delivered several rapid blows to the head of his beloved pet while yelling at the top of his lungs. Luckily, the two men could separate them before the Pit-bull had a chance to sink its teeth beyond the husky’s dense coat.
I was annoyed that this dog-owner wasn’t using enough common sense to have such an aggressive and overwhelmingly powerful animal on a leash. I soon discovered my annoyance increasing as I continued to watch the master beat his dog profusely to scold the dog. When the beating ended, he hugged the dog, and kissed it directly on the mouth and, to my utter amazement, released the dog and again allowed it to sniff and wander about unleashed. The owner seemed oblivious to the many small children, hundreds of adults, and other animals.
The young man who owned the dog appeared to be about 21 years old. He wore long shorts hanging so loosely that they rested four or five inches below his waistline. His shorts were sagging because of the long silver chain which hung zoot-suit style from his back pocket to his front pocket. His bare torso revealed his sophisticated art collection, and his head was shaved nearly bald. Indeed, the dog was an asset to his overall image, and to leash the animal probably wasn’t the coolest thing to do.
While I was thinking about the absurdity of it all, the Pit-bull identified its next target and bolted across the grass toward a small white puppy. The owner chased the animal as fast as he could, screaming for his dog to come back. No chance.
Luckily for the puppy, the Pit-bull over-shot his target as he rapidly came upon the unsuspecting victim. The Pit-bull was so excited and had moved so quickly that it ran right into the little dog, running it over and had to double back to get a hold of it. That gave the Pit-bull’s owner the split second he needed to dive across the grass and tackle his dog before it had a chance to attack successfully.
Another beating ensued, and I was yet amazed that there was still no attempt to leash the dog and no effort to consider the safety of those around him.
I was now standing and watching as were many others. Being the type to speak up, I cautiously walked near the owner. When I was within ear-shot, I said directly, but politely, “You know, a dog like that really ought to be on a leash in such a busy place. Somebody’s bound to get hurt.”
He had his back to me and was bent over, continuing to punish his large and muscular dog. He made no immediate response. He didn’t even look my way. I was just about to move on when he quickly snatched up his dog under his right arm, turned and lunged toward me. With a wild look in his eye and a terrible scowl on his face, he yelled, “What did you say?! Do you want some of this dog, punk?”
I backed away as fast as I could, stumbling as I had been caught off-guard. I found myself within inches of the snarling dog (this happens to be one of the few domestic animals that strikes genuine fear in my heart) and answered calmly, “No, actually, I don’t want any of your dog. I only asked that you put that animal on a leash.”
He continued to rush toward me, yelling and screaming. He told me that he would let his dog loose on me, “How’d you like that...?” he asked sarcastically. He then explained that his dog would break my arm and tear up my leg. All of which I am sure he would have done. He taunted me and repeated and again, “Come on, punk, let’s fight right now! I’ll kill you!”
My heart pounded, and I felt dizzy by the sudden rush of adrenaline. I felt as though I had nowhere to go. I couldn’t run, surely the dog would catch me. I couldn’t fight back for fear that the dog would get hold of my arms and tear them to shreds. The owner wouldn’t listen to reason, and he was relentless. I felt as though I were in a dream. Over 100 people had stopped, just watching and not saying a word. All that I could do was back away as fast as possible. I continued to back up in a continual stumble. I held my hand up in front of me, walking backward in a circle. I was repeating as loud as possible in between his threats and swearing, “Just get that dog away from me! Get that dog out of my face!” To eliminate the possibility of being bitten, I suggested, “Why don’t you put the dog away and handle me yourself?” I had no fear of the coward who hid behind his animal compared to the look in that dog’s eyes.
After a minute of this merry-go-round, he slapped my forehead and knocked off my cap. I could do nothing but continue to back away from the dog. Then, he reached out and punched me in the arm, knocking the book out of my hand. I felt like the school-yard weakling about to get beat up by the bully!
In desperation, I looked out into the pathetic crowd and asked, “Are you guys going to stand there and watch this, or is somebody going to help me out with this dog here?” Nobody moved. I was astounded.
Minutes passed, and the young man’s aggression kept increasing. He misinterpreted my constant running as a sign of my fear of him. It was as if his appetite to make good on his threats was increasing, and the growing crowd only added fuel to his fire. He was swelling with pride and power.
I, on the other hand, was embarrassed. I felt as though I was the featured fight at the school bus stop. The situation had become ridiculous, and I could do nothing about it. What the bully didn’t know is that boys being boys, in years past, my friends and I loved to fight.
Without warning, he handed the dog to a friend in the crowd and charged toward me. I had no time to run, negotiate, or even move. I waited for his punch, and as it came at my face, I stepped to the side and landed a hard right just above his eye and followed up with a hard left into his other eye. His head flew back, and he stumbled into bystanders, who kept him from falling. Immediately a cheer rang out, and I looked in amazement at these spectators.
The loud-mouth held his hands over both eyes as he stumbled around. I backed away, wanting to have nothing to do with any of it. I reminded him, “Listen, I told you I didn’t want to fight; I just defended myself!” He said nothing more. I picked up my hat and book and made my way through the crowd. Everyone gathered around, patting me on the back, telling me, “Great shot!” “Hey, you nailed that jerk!” and “I saw it all. That guy was attacking you!” I kept my head down and thought to myself, Yeah, then why didn’t you do anything about it?
What is happening to our society? Why was this kid so irresponsible and violent? And why are so few willing to stand up for what’s right?
I found it interesting that the owner of the Pit-bull became so angry and abusive when his dog attacked. After all, the animal was only doing what it had learned and what came naturally. Is there any question that the young man’s violent behavior was also learned by example and grew because it was left unchecked?
I wonder if the parents of the children who witnessed our strange confrontation that day thought to take a minute or two to teach their kids something about what had happened. Were they just left to believe that such events were acceptable and normal for public gatherings?
Lately, society faces a terrible trend. Children are being taught lousy behavior through the words and actions of their guardians, and they are learning it from what surrounds them each day without parental intervention to illustrate what's best for them. Rarely does someone learn to have a positive outlook and a productive attitude without direct influence.
Consider the direction of many within my generation. One Generation X college student recently concluded a speech to hundreds of students with this statement, “...we now have nothing to look forward to!” He had just outlined the ills of society and explained how the previous generation’s opportunities no longer exist. His words were received with applause.
Why did this audience of Generation Xers enthusiastically agree with such a dismal and limiting message? What does this say about the future of America?
Our Founding Fathers faced seemingly insurmountable odds at the inception of this great country. What would have happened if they had believed that it was too difficult to forge ahead and decided that there was nothing to look forward to in the face of opposition? Would we have ever known the freedoms that we enjoy and the opportunities that that freedom makes possible?
Many of my generation have accepted that they have, in effect, “...nothing to look forward to.” The result? The slacker segment of Generation X. Misguided, disinterested, and hooked on MTV. Douglas Rushkoff, the author of The Gen X Reader, explained that Generation X (referred to as Busters) has been, Born into a society where traditional templates have proven themselves quaint at best, and mass-murderous at worst. Busters feel liberated from the constraints of ethical systems, but also somewhat cast adrift. It must be nice to have something external to believe in. Having no such permanent icon (no God, no Country, no Superhero), we choose instead, by default, actually, to experience life as play and trust that the closer we become to our own true intentions, the closer we will come to our own best intentions. He further continues, ...we see our increasing apathy as a strength and make a conscious effort to teach our compatriots how to remain liberated from the mind-numbing, hypnotic demagoguery perpetuated so successfully on everybody else. Whether you like it or not, we are the thing that will replace you.
On the other hand, we find many Generation Xers who are seething with ambition and hope. One Generation X website, JollyRoger, reads, “We’re proud to be the voice of the contemplating Generation Xers, inspired by truths higher than heroin, preferring thinking to drinking and mowing the grass to smoking it. We’re cultural mutineers; guardians of common sense...”
In June 1997, TIME ran a lengthy article by Margot Hornblower on Generation X. Hornblower explains, “They (twenty-somethings) may be cynical about institutions, but they remain remarkably optimistic as individuals. At least half believe that they will be better off financially than their parents. And an astonishing 96% of Gen Xers say, ‘I am very sure that one day I will get to where I want to be in life,’ showing far more confidence than Boomers did a generation ago. For all their ironic detachment, today’s young adults embrace an American dream, albeit one different from the vision their parents or grandparents had.”
Without question, this is a fragmented group. Too young for any real accurate classification and too new to be understood entirely. But what Generation X certainly does share is this; we came up in a world of social decline and unstable foundations, which has heavily clouded the minds of many regarding an overall understanding of morality or the need for principle-centered living. Boomers raised most of us, and they didn’t do much to improve our familial and social framework by their own admission. The same TIME article goes on to say, “...pollsters find that Boomers are markedly more pessimistic than Xers. Fully 71% of Boomers say, ‘If I had the chance to start over in life, I would do things differently.’”
Mona Charen recently wrote, “We have engaged, since the great feminist revolution of the 1960s, in a wholesale retreat from child-rearing. The evidence is all around us that children are terribly damaged by the neglect they’ve suffered these past 30 years. Promiscuous divorce, illegitimacy, and, yes, overwork by parents have combined to create a society in which children are left to raise themselves.”
And so today, we are at a crossroads—a changing of the guard. The last of the Boomers are raising their children, and the Generation Xers are just starting their families. I wonder what my generation, a mixture of low ambition and bursting, unbridled enthusiasm, is planning to teach their children? Are they making any plans? And what are our present-day parents of teens teaching right now?
One thing I am sure of, though, is this: Most children eventually become as their parents are. Just as the Pit-bull took his violent lead from his master, children learn and carry on the “traditions of the fathers.” And of late, many parents haven’t been, well, going the extra mile!
The result today is that we are witnessing the perpetuation of the “If-it-feels-good, do-it!” attitude. It is all around us, and if this continues from generation to generation, we are headed for an excruciating and eventually irreversible social dilemma.
In his book The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, William Bennett points out, “A disturbing and telling sign of the declining condition among the young is evident in an on-going survey. Over the years, teachers have been asked to identify the top problems in America’s public schools. In 1940, teachers identified talking out of turn, chewing gum, making noise, running in the halls, cutting in line, dress code infractions, and littering. When asked the same question in 1990, teachers identified drug use, alcohol abuse, pregnancy, suicide, rape, robbery, and assault.”
Societal decay is gaining momentum at a shocking rate. We see this downward spiral increase in pitch and velocity as if to foretell the probability of a complete flat spin soon. Our children face personal, familial, and educational problems far more complicated than we may have ever imagined. If this generational spiral is left uncorrected, the following generations will be left to stand alone, and lacking knowledge will undoubtedly perish.
Upsetting, yes. But we have not yet arrived at that point. Despite all that we see that is disappointing, our social problems are not irreversible. We are not in a flat spin, and I believe that the majority of the people in this world are trying to do what they believe is right. There is an abundance of happiness and opportunity to be found each day. Life in America remains full of many luxuries and possibilities, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. As we experience this looming concern for the future of our society and the world, the need to begin making necessary and truly sufficient course corrections becomes urgent. It is now that we need to extend Fair Warnings to the next generation.
I’m a concerned parent and citizen. I have watched many peers stumble through life when perhaps some of their flailing’s could have been avoided. As I have talked to many friends and acquaintances about the degree of guidance they received in their homes (and finding in some cases that leadership was virtually non-existent), I’m convinced that many specific familial changes are needed. There is an evident and urgent need for concerned and participating parents. Parents who are not only concerned with insisting their kids wear helmets when riding bikes, eat right, and avoid bad men in slow-moving vehicles but also insist their children are taught specific rules and truths about life. I’m talking about rules and principles such as honesty, hard work, positive attitude, and kindness. In short, we need great leaders.
Only after more leaders of families emerge and only after this change occurs will the Pit-bulls of American society, which threatens children’s welfare, begin to lose their strength. Only then will we see more happiness in each home. Only then will more parents witness their children reach their full potential.