I’m not sure what’s wrong in America. I imagine you can’t, either. I’m writing this to see if I can begin to work out the reason. This morning I got up and did my morning thing. Say hi to the dogs, get some coffee, feed the dogs, let them out to poop, get some more coffee, read through the preposterous number of emails on my phone, and then… go work out. I backed my wife’s car out of the garage and got everything ready. I then sat on a stool and stared at my squat rack for like 15 minutes. I was frozen, and the weak part of my brain was winning the debate. This conversation was happening in my brain, and I just seemed to be a passive observer. Then, something happened, and I stood up. I put the bar on the rack to warm up. I then stared at the bar for about 3 minutes – quite a while to just stare. Again, something happened, and I put the bar on my shoulders and did ten squats. I put the bar back and resumed staring. It was like I was being pulled away from the workout and had to just stay there until I began acting again. Finally, I got my workout going but had to literally curse at the bar for each lift. I was hellbent on doing it despite the weak part of my brain seeming to have the upper hand that morning. In the end, I got it done and felt like a million bucks afterward.
Why do I say all this? I say it because, despite us collectively being unable to put our finger on what’s going wrong in America, I think what I’m seeing is we, as Americans, are acting like me in my garage. Something is up, and our brains, maybe it’s a self-defense mechanism, keep us from acting. Maybe we just go along down this path that we know is wrong and do nothing different because it feels safer. That has to stop. My workout was hard. All of them are. I do them, and afterward, I feel like I can conquer the world. On the other hand, Americans have, quite literally, conquered the world. Every other country aspires to be like us. We live in the greatest nation ever to grace God’s green Earth. Yet, we are all moping around. The news and social media have us at each other’s throats. We obsess over things far away and ignore the things nearby that we can control. We judge first before seeing another’s actions. We spend far too much time keeping up with celebrities and invest far too little time with family, friends, and neighbors. We avoid going outside and seeing the real world in favor of wasting time in the digital world. In short, technology is messing up our priorities and making us soft.
We need to be hard. America was built by hard men and women. Can you imagine the horrors of getting in a wagon with your wife, kids, and some supplies in the 1850s and just heading West? No roads, no hospitals, no McDonalds, and there were all kinds of things actively trying to kill you both night and day. Can you imagine? And that’s just one tiny sliver of the hard things previous Americans endured to make us who we are today. This story I’m about to share now sounds pathetic, but I will tell it anyhow. Years ago, I was approached by the assistant principal of my daughter’s elementary school to see if I would help her start a club called DOGS (Dads of Great Students). The club was to encourage dads to spend more time at school and be more engaged with their kids’ education. The assistant principal showed me studies of how when dads are more engaged with school, their kids have all kinds of long-term benefits. So, I agreed to help and, shortly thereafter, found myself having to speak in front of fifty dads in the school cafeteria. I had never spoken in public, and right before it was my turn, I basically freaked out. I took the microphone in my hand and noticed they were uncontrollably shaking. I had to put both hands on the microphone and hold it tight against my chest to keep my hands still. I was able to speak, with a bit of a waver in my voice at first, but I got my point across, and we had a bunch of dads sign up for the club that very morning. It was a success, and I had a spring in my step the rest of that week. I did something that to me was terrifying, I survived, and was much better for it. I thought a lot about that speech in the next couple of weeks, and the lesson I got from it was that getting far out of your comfort zone is scary but also incredibly empowering. Since then, I have hosted and spoken at large events with distinguished business leaders and politicians. These events would never have happened if I hadn’t forced my reluctant legs to walk up the stairs of that school’s cafeteria stage years ago.
Where I’m going with all this is that I’m beginning to think we Americans are going through an entirely new and a bit frightening digital age and, as a result, are choosing to remain in our comfort zone. What we’re experiencing has never happened before, so we have no history to guide us. Things keep changing, and the pace of change gets faster and faster. So, we’re kind of just sitting around and watching. Sure, there are some people acting, but most are watching. America has always been filled with people of action, but we’re not acting anymore. We’ve become passive and are letting the weak part of our brains take control. That’s not us. That is not what made us great. Listen, technology and constant change are not going away. If you’re looking for things to go back to “normal,” that is not going to happen. What’s the solution? That is entirely up to you, but I have some suggestions. Find whatever your version is of my barbell and curse at it. Then act. Do something. Put your phone down. Think about how you can make your own neighborhood better and then make it happen. Call some friends you have not spoken with in far too long. Tell some stupid dad jokes to your coworkers and have an easy laugh. Start looking for a political candidate that you feel actually represents your values, call their office, and ask how you can help. That pothole you hate – take ten minutes to find out the number for your local Department of Transportation and call them to have it fixed. See where I’m going with all this? None of these are actually that hard to do – it’s just that, in this moment, they FEEL very hard. What I am suggesting is to start doing the things we all used to do. It’s like the past three years have lulled us all into sleep, and it’s now time to wake up. It is going to be hard at first, and that’s fine. According to a number of polls, the vast majority of Americans do not like the direction we are heading. So, I say it’s past time to stop wishing things would change. We’re known for doing hard things, and we’re up to this task. Getting out of this comfort zone we’re all stuck in will lead us to something better and get America going in the right direction again. So, I say go curse at your version of a barbell and start turning things around for the better in this great America.