Friday, August 21, 2009

Questioning Authority, or Fear Is The Mindkiller

The past couple years, I've managed to reconnect with some very dear friends from my distant past. After 30+ intervening years, we have all changed a bit, but essentially we're much the same, and it's been truly wonderful to talk with each of them again. Except for two of us, who are childless, everyone I knew in their teens is a grandparent now. I find myself watching crowds, and zeroing in on the people with paunches and grey hair. Although I know those folks are my age, my insides are confused by that idea. And indeed, I don't look as old as a lot of my own generation, but that's due to a lucky role of the genetic dice, for the truth is, I AM an aging Boomer. One thing I like about my generation, at least around these parts, is how we've not cratered to the societal expectation of a more conservative style with hair and wardrobe. Both men and women wear their greying hair long. Gimmee a head with hair - long, beautiful hair! Shinin', gleamin',streamin', flaxen', waxen. Give me down to there hair, shoulder length or longer...

One gift my generation gave the world was "Question Authority." Of course, in keeping with my overall yin/yang view of life ("that which appears to be a cream puff frequently turns out to be a shit sandwich - and vice versa," or "that which is our strength is also our weakness"), I believe said gift is also a curse, for there is also much good to be had by not questioning authority. Had I questioned my father's insistence that I stay out of the street as a kid, for example, I might not be here to tell the tale. But don't misunderstand, I am Queen of Asking "Why?" In fact, some of the brutality visited on me as a kid came about as a direct result of asking my father "But WHY?" Poor parental units, they were SO not up to the task of a sharp little tyke like me...but that's a story for another day.

I have been watching all the hubbub over the proposed health care reform, and it occurred to me that what I'm seeing is my generation and the one before it at odds yet again. See, the generation before mine were the kids who went to high school under the Truman and Eisenhower Administration in the 50s...Bobby Soxers who towed the social line and seldom questioned authority. Obviously, a bunch of people from that generation ended up siding with my generation and questioning authority, but the majority didn't. And therein lies the real "Generation Gap," in my opinion.

When I see the people screaming and throwing tantrums over the proposed change in the status quo, I can't help but notice more often than not it's the Bobby Soxers vs the Boomers. Strikes me it's a way for people to voice their overall frustration with a life that simply never lived up to their expectations, but a discussion of the whats and whys of those expectations will have to saved for another day.

I have a lot of friends in their sixties, ten+ years older than me, and we are frequently at odds when discussing political and social mores (pronounced "MOHrays" it's a Latin term for societal norms, customs, virtues or values). More often than not, it all comes down to fear. In order to question authority, you either have to be terribly afraid (enough to overcome your socialized fear), or simply foolish or foolhardy enough to ask "why?" If the former, there's a natural aggressiveness that almost invariably cues a switch to fight (as in fight or flight) mode.

Now I could go on, talking about how my generation was so pampered and all powerful (due to our sheer numbers and the advent of our births immediately following a terrifying and fiercesome war), and thus never learned the value of fear, or about how the generations just before and after mine have a right to be angry, overshadowed as they are by the Boomers, but let's just stay focused on the matter at hand, shall we? And the matter at hand is health care for our citizenry.

I believe the majority of Americans can agree that the health care system in place simply doesn't work. A change of the status quo is required at this time. But what to do? If you look at Canada and Britain and Scandinavia for examples of socialized (stay with me, I know that word scares a lot of you) medicine, you will see ways in which those systems work very well and ways in which they don't. Still, the one thing that CAN be said is no one is without critical care in those countries, something that sadly cannot be said of this country's medical system.

Over the past two decades, due purely to financial woes, small towns across this nation have been forced to shut down their hospitals and clinics, doctors forced to leave those towns for a larger population base - aka more money. One of the things driving the increase in costs to the medical establishment is preventative measures. When was the last time you had anyone get near any of your body fluids (the mouth is DEFinitely included) without gloves? If you're old enough, you remember doctors and nurses washing their hands before and after treating you. Not any more. Now there's a separate trashcan emblazoned with a bio-hazard icon, and the omnipresent box of gloves. Every time a medical person enters a treatment room with the intent of touching you, a fresh pair of gloves is required. I used to worry about disposable diapers taking over the landfills of the world, now I worry about plastic bottles and latex gloves.

Let's say a doctor sees fifteen patients a day...and that's a conservative estimate in many modern practices. Let's further assume three separate trips into the room for treatment, with a pair of fresh gloves for both doctor and nurse each time. That's a total of 90 pairs of gloves a day! A box of 40 latex gloves runs about $30. So each day that's a cost of about $70, just in gloves, for each pair of doctor and nurse. Using the most common business estimate of 240 work days a year, you end up with a whopping $16,800 a year in GLOVES! For a single pairing of doctor and nurse in a quiet little practice.

But I fear I have rat holed a bit. The thing is, we Americans (others, too) have been carefully trained to believe our government and medical establishment is supremely competent, and will take care of us, absolutely. A very precise parent-child relationship between authority and the general populace has been crafted over the last 50-100 years, and it worked pretty well for most of that time. But neither our world nor our society can afford that relationship to continue.

We must now be encouraged in our pursuit of adulthood and the inevitable partnership it will bring. We must question Authority, not angrily, but for real answers and assistance in our pursuit of social adulthood. And that Authority must learn to calm its own fears, for we have no desire to do without them, we just want to be treated as partners rather than children. We can learn to take on some of the work that we rely too heavily on social systems to do for us, and in doing so take responsibility for ourselves again, rather than embracing our destructive sense of individual and sociological entitlement.

None of this is easy, but the potential rewards are great. If we can muster the wherewithal to step up and accept responsibility for ourselves, our descendants will have a far healthier society than the one in which we currently live. And isn't that what people insist their primary concern is for; "the kids"? So folks, let's stop throwing tantrums, take a few deep breaths, and start talking with one another in an effort to build a better world - for ourselves and for our children.


The Treadler said...

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Woolgathering Crone of the Northwoods

~*~Patty Szymkowicz said...

Well said, the part about 'fear' sure hits the nail on the head, most Americans have a long way to go realizing we are all one, many did not see it in connection to things happening across the globe, now they don't seem to see the need for everyone to have the most basic services here as well....we haven't even figured out how to feed every child in the US, there are 10+ million children in the USA that do not have adequate food each day...change has to come