Remember Harry Belafonte’s version of the Limbo song. . . that rich baritone asking how low can you go?
Harry is 96 today and I’m guessing might be surprised at the answer to that question. Why? Because today, in this country, we’re proving over and over and over we can go pretty doggone low.
And it doesn’t feel like we’re done yet.
- Government assistance
- Drug testing
- School sports
- Academic rankings
- Even tax day
Think not? Let’s delve into each.
Voting: Most of us grew up with the idea that we would vote on the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November at a specific location. That law was passed by Congress in 1845 and even though early voting options (absentee) have been in use for quite a while, the vast majority of Americans who voted (more than 90 percent) tended to do so on Election Day. In the 1990s that began to change, and those changes have accelerated of late. Is that good, bad or indifferent? Fans will tell you that early voting brings out more voters. Critics will tell you it opens the door to fraud. All I know is that growing up we usually had results election night. Now, despite technological advances, results often take longer and the whole process went from simple to confusing. All in the name of lowering the bar for voting.
Government Assistance: Remember when most people would rather dig ditches than accept government assistance? There was a matter of pride involved, and I would argue that despite the sinful connotation, that wasn’t a bad thing. Today, it is not uncommon for people to turn down jobs so they can stay at home on the government dime.
Drug testing: I was at an event recently where a manufacturing plant exec told me they quit drug testing as a pre-condition of employment. Why? It’s harder to find employees than ever before. They don’t need an extra barrier.
School sports: OK, so the IHSAA has been a favorite punching bag on the issue of class sports. So, let’s leave that low-hanging fruit alone for a second. What about earning varsity letters? Last time I looked, letter sweaters weren’t in vogue anymore. But letter jackets still are. Every school can have their own system of how a student gets one, but at some schools the bar is pretty low. As soon as a kid gets their first letter, they can go out and buy a letter jacket. It used to be a lot harder. A hundred or so years ago when I was in school you got half a point for making the freshman or JV team and one point for varsity. At three points, you earned your letter sweater and it took six points for a jacket. For most, that meant they got their jacket as a junior or senior – and I guarantee you it meant a lot! It also kept you going when things got tough because that was a big goal you were working toward.
Academic rankings: Like most of the above, this is not a blanket statement. But some schools have done away with academic rankings and things like valedictorians. The idea being that such put undue pressure on kids and made some feel bad. And good gosh we don’t want anyone feeling pressure or, even worse, feeling bad today.
Sin: This is one of my favorites. Things we were taught were wrong back in Sunday School now aren’t only OK, they are celebrated. Even more, if you still believe all the things you were taught in those classes, you are now the one in the wrong. In fact, you are now characterized as a right-wing Christian zealot.
Journalism: This one is NOT my favorite, but sadly, it’s a reality. One of the first newsrooms I worked in had a sign on the wall – If your mother tells you she loves you, get a second source. That used to be the standard. Us rookie reporters might write something without attribution, but savvy editors would whip out the red grease pencil and wipe out any “facts” that weren’t backed up. Today, take a look at a lot of stories and you won’t be hard-pressed to find phrases like “falsely claimed.” Are those statements backed up with sources and facts? Usually not. And most of the time they are aimed at conservatives. This one is personal for me, but we’ve lowered the standard way too much.
Tax Day: What, was having the same deadline every year too boring? Now, Tax Day is a movable feast (for the government) and the April 15 deadline is long gone. We lowered the bar to bring in more voters, but did we make it better?
I know, I sound like the grumpy old man I am. The thing is, we used to live in a country that raised standards – that set high goals and worked hard to achieve them. Remember JFK’s moon speech where he set a goal that we didn’t even have the technology to pull off? But pull it off we did.
In sports, good coaches raised expectations and standards. They never lowered them. And now let’s get back to those wonderful class sports. How many schools did we have back when Milan won state in 1954, 750 or so? That tournament was never about the winner, not really. That tournament taught 749 schools that if you want to win, work harder. It taught the valuable lesson that sometimes in life you lose . . . and how to handle that.
Not so much today. We don’t want anyone to feel left bad or left out. We want the lowliest of jobs to pay good money, really good money. Forget the fact that some of us started out in low-paying jobs and worked our asses off to make a better life. Now, you get the better life handed to you without having to work so hard for it.
What does all that teach us? Are we learning that if you want something, work for it? Or are we learning that if you want something whine about how unfair things are and wait for someone to give it to you?
Before anyone gets offended, this has nothing to do with discrimination of any sort – race, gender, creed, orientation . . . Discrimination, in whatever form it manifests itself, is wrong. Capital W.R.O.N.G. But we’ve taken the concept and blown it out of proportion. Now, if an unjust act occurs, and if it is the exception and not the rule, we rush to change the rules so we can crush it out of existence and never, ever let it happen again.
Sure. We seem to forget the ugly fact that no matter how many guidelines, rules and laws we have, stupidity will never go completely away. One can argue that the process can actually make things worse.
We lower standards with the idea that everyone will feel OK. But let me repeat – stupid will not go away.
You want to make a real change? Teach people to pray for those who discriminate in any form . . . and then ignore them. Don’t give them power. Don’t make them martyrs. Walk away. Find another path. Do better.
Truth to tell, life can be hard . . . and unforgiving. When we keep giving everyone easy answers we are not preparing them for when things get tough.
Raising our standards, expecting the best from each other, that practice made us and our country better, tougher, more competitive. We survived and won a few wars because we were the toughest kid on the block. Keep on lowering the bar and see how tough we become . . . and see what happens when some other nation takes our lunch money and bloodies our nose.
We have to toughen up, to not get our feelings hurt so easily. We have to get back to raising the bar, to getting what we work for and taking a little pride in that. If we don’t, then we should not be surprised when, as my grandpa used to say, things go to hell in a handbasket.
-Two cents, which is about how much Timmons said his columns are worth, appears periodically in The Times. Timmons is the chief executive officer of Sagamore News Media, the company that owns The Noblesville Times. He is also a proud Noblesville High School graduate and can be contacted at email@example.com.