These days it seems like everyone is in a perpetual state of dissatisfaction. Even compared to the Karen people, who live under the oppressive thumb of the Burmese government while surviving in an unforgiving jungle, I have rarely come across people more profoundly dissatisfied with their lives as Americans. In fact, the Karen are among the most content people I have known. To contrast, many in the U.S. live in a constant state of whining.
Google defines “whining” as “a feeble or petulant complaint,” and that’s a lot of what we see nowadays — it’s usually followed by doing nothing but tweeting or texting within one’s inner circle. We see complaining all over social media, from long-winded posts to grossly oversimplifying memes, both of which only serve to strengthen the speaker’s echo chamber. The phrase “talk is cheap” is heading out the window as people seem to believe their Facebook rants actually count for anything. If anything, the rants, memes and other useless rhetoric are largely damaging, even if they’re “right.”
You see young people complaining about how the older generations ruined their lives because of the economy, healthcare or current system of education; you see older generations spew out the classic “young people these days,” as if every generation that has said that up until now was wrong, but this new generation is finally, actually the bad one. You even see millennials ironically whining about millennials, as if they were the one magical exception who was born too late.
People would rather make fun of a handful of millennials for eating tide pods, rather than criticize them for having the lowest voting turnout out of any age group in American history. And of course most would never do anything about either.
On the flip side, many college students complain about the massive debt that they accrue from getting a degree, pointing a finger at older generations for nefariously making money off their desire for education. And then they continue to willfully get those degrees (often ones that have no practical use), and of course they will go on into the world and usually do nothing about it.
And raving journalists like me sit here and complain about the complainers.
Some of these complaints are legitimate, some are simply whining — I’ll leave those distinctions up to you. However, many of these types of people would never take a second, sit back, and enjoy what they have. Rarely do they breathe deep and appreciate the sacrifices of so many, from soldiers of the American Revolution to heroes like Martin Luther King Jr. or Abraham Lincoln.
What has already been achieved does not get acknowledged enough, not in proportion to the constant chatter about every imperfection in our American bubble. For example, we live in the most peaceful time in history in some of the most luxurious conditions on the planet. There are a million statistics out there — if you make more than 50k a year, you’re in the top 1% of the world’s highest earners. According to Forbes, if you have a $10 bill lying around somewhere alongside zero debt, you are richer than 15% of Americans already.
That’s not to diminish the problems we have, and that’s not to say the “smaller” battles today aren’t worth fighting. They absolutely are — the day we stop struggling and crawling toward a better society is the day we fall as a country.
So why is it so important to recognize these things? Everyone knows that it’s good and healthy to be appreciative, but why is it actually important?
Because the best way to lose something is to never realize that you had it in the first place.
Of course I’m not talking about the kid in inner city Chicago that is fighting to stay alive, and I’m not talking about the homeless man in downtown New York City who is struggling to make it through the winter. I’m talking about those of us that have running water, a warm home and daily food. I’m talking about those of us who don’t have to worry about starving to death or having the government kick down your door and put a bullet in your face because of your religion or political alignment. I’m talking about those of us who can vote and get involved in our government if we so choose.
Other nations don’t have these luxuries. We live in a society akin to the Capitol from “The Hunger Games” and we have the audacity to pretend like we’re in the middle of District 12.
If you’re not able to recognize the things you have, that means you are not able to see things for how they really are; if you are not able to see things for how they really are, your opinions and arguments are not really based in reality, they’re based somewhere else.
The bottom line is: if you never appreciate the good things this country has to offer, then I’m naturally skeptical when you start pointing out the bad.
Let’s build a culture that still fights for what it wants and needs, but also appreciates what it’s got.
Featured image courtesy of Pexels.