What Is the Secret to Collective Greatness?

imagesI write almost exclusively about education, but woke up this morning reminded of the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and once again wonder at the acceleration of time and what it does to the global human consciousness.  Can it really be just 70 years ago, a mere flicker in the movie reel of human, let alone global, history that America and a few other nations, led by a group of supremely selfless men and women, united behind those to whom it fell to charge ashore on a cold beach to face the machine guns of tyranny, not for themselves, but because it was the right thing to do?

How, in just 70 years, have we (and in this I place Americans once again in the “lead”), shifted from that focus on the greater long-term good, to the narrow, short-term self-interests that drive petty factions of provincial thinking from our political leaders on both ends of the spectrum? How can we not differentiate between the positive power of the capitalist market system and the utterly rank selfishness that has, in just a few decades, wounded, perhaps fatally, the uniquely American middle class dream?

All of us accomplish so much that is good and beneficial to others in our own lives, yet it seems that we have lost the ability to gather that together, to accomplish it collectively.  Do we need a challenge as pressing as Hitler? Maybe so; even as Hitler was forging his worst upon Europe, many, if not most Americans wanted to stay at home and let the worst happen. It took Pearl Harbor to change our collective worldview. How many Superstorm Sandy’s and years of Midwest drought will it take before the reality of global warming gets past the narrow mindset of those who caterwaul that science is just a political ploy?

Too simple? Sure. Melancholy? Sure. But with every passing year it will be easier and easier for the Greatest Generation to shift in the global imagination from reality to myth, a parable rather than an attainable goal.  Why do my generation and the current generation not strive to be collectively great, when we know what greatness can achieve?  Is it just too hard?  Or is it just too uncomfortable?

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