Grandparents often wake up one morning and wonder how they could possibly be this old. How did it happen? Sneaks up on you, sort of…First you notice that your doctors and political leaders are young enough to be your sons or daughters. Your own children’s friends are people of “substance” in their fields----whether law, business, education, technology; and if they are not, why aren’t they as successful as they “should be”.
Your co-workers get younger every year. Your jokes about Jack Benny’s vault evoke puzzled stares and an occasional, “Who’s Jack Benny?” But a lot more than popular culture icons have changed. Intrinsic values are often turned on their heads. Behind all this mess now in the financial world a huge flip flop is revealed. Sure our parents (the great-grand parent generation) believed in hard work and prized the financial rewards it brought. Most were committed capitalists, with full faith in the system. But they clung to a priviso or two: “Work hard, make a lot of money, and be sure to save a lot too!” Go after the brass ring with a fervor, but do it honestly. Lying, cheating, exploiting friends and relatives, in particular, was considered heinous.
Something has happened since the winding down of the cold war. Our new enemy is financial failure or even mediocrity. Nothing is more sacred than the acquisition of signs of riches---huge, if highly mortgaged multiple homes, automobiles, electronic toys, boats, clothes, jewels, glitzy vacations and hobbies, obscene tuitions even in some preschools. We’re in an awful mess because of the acceptance of excess.
A check out clerk at the supermarket confided a question she was almost ashamed to ask me---it seemed so unreal. “Someone about your age told me that when you were growing up there were no credit cards. Is that true or is he pulling my leg?”
Her eyes bulged as I confirmed the accuracy of that information. It was too much to believe that we didn’t even have health insurance cards. Mom would send or take us to the doctor with a stomach ache or sore throat and a five or ten dollar bill to pay the kind gentleman for his care. In farm towns, some doctors got paid in eggs, chickens, a side of beef or a turkey for Thanksgiving. That worked because it was a long horse and buggy ride to the general store, and the farm goods were fresh. But now I am going way back to a time----before Jack Benny even thought of having a vault. Jack’s silent reaction to an armed robber’s demand, “Your money or your life” caused the villain to repeat the choice before him. “Give me a minute”, Benny responded, “I am thinking about it”.
With that remark, we entered the modern era, thinking less and less about any contest between our money and our lives. Today, it’s money, hands down.