America got soft after the 80’s.

IMG_0589The United States has become soft.  We have issues telling the truth because we’re afraid we’ll hurt people’s feelings.  We have a tendency to sugarcoat the things, because we feel the truth will crush someone’s spirit.  We are relegated to telling off-color, awkward jokes, which leaves others wondering if we’re serious or not.  This is almost always followed by the line “I was just playing”.  Yeah right…

We also diminish the attainment of goals, by giving everyone a trophy, instead of just saying “you lost”.  These facts are well documented, but I want to know, why?  What the heck happened?  I know one thing, it sure didn’t start in the 80’s.

I grew up primarily in the 1980’s (ages 4-13), in the United States.  I remember thinking that, things were cool for the most part.  I had friends, played outside (a lot), had video games, cartoons, watched movies, watched movies I wasn’t supposed to see, visited relatives, had sleepovers, went to the beach and amusement parks, etc.

In popular culture, in no particular order, I remember liking; Michael Jackson, Ronald Reagan, Hulk Hogan, Mr. T., Mike Tyson, Michael Jordan, GI Joe, Transformers, Thundercats, Knight Rider, Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends, Run DMC, The Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, KRS-One and the BDP Crew, Goonies, Ghostbusters, All of the Star Wars movies, The Never Ending Story (I know, corny), Back to the Future and of course, The Last Dragon.  Bruce LeRoy, that’s who!

I also vividly remember getting my butt whooped with switches and belts.  My cousin vividly recalls his father’s razor strap, which my Mother-in-law reminded me about the other day.  Kids used to get beat all the time.  We also rode in the back of pick-up trucks to baseball games and regularly traveled miles away from home on our bikes without a helmet.

By the way, all of those things are crimes now…

At 10 years old I had a job, cutting grass at the church for $10 a week.  I would walk the half-mile to church, unlock the basement door, drag the lawn mower out and gas it up, fire it up and cut the grass.  Yes, at 10 years old, I was operating small machinery by myself.  I even remember having the wherewithal to ask for a raise a year later and they upped it to $15 a week.  Then I began cutting the grass for people who saw me out there working.  At one point, I was making about $35 dollars a week!

Most young people today don’t have that experience.

And the thing I remember most, was the daily honesty that was dosed out to me in massive chunks.  Here’s some examples;

  1. You’re not going to get a trophy for this wrestling tournament, because you lost.
  2. Your team lost because the other team was better.
  3. You have to study harder, then maybe next time you’ll pass the test.
  4. That girl doesn’t like you because she thinks you’re ugly and corny.
  5. Bullies exist.  If you let them walk all over you, no one will respect you.
  6. You didn’t get picked because they didn’t think you were good enough.
  7. You forgot your homework at home and you just forgot it.  No calls to Mom.

And conversely;

  1. You worked hard and won the tournament!  Good work!  Here’s your trophy.  No one else got 1st place.  It’s special.
  2. Your team won because you were better.  You practiced hard and it paid off, good job!
  3. You got a 100% on the test, because you listened and studied.  It’s going in the grade book as a 100%.  Your final avg. will also reflect the good grade.  Great work!
  4. That girl likes you because she thinks you’re funny.  She found that out because you approached her and talked to her.
  5. Bullies exist.  You have to stand up to them, in order for them to back down.
  6. You didn’t get picked because they didn’t think you were good enough.  It made you work hard to improve your skills, so that next time, you get picked.

I use these examples to say, I think honesty is great.  I don’t know when we decided political correctness was better than plain honesty.  I get that there’s a way to be honest and you don’t have to be a jerk, but there is a time and a place for being straight up with people.  Most times, people will grow from the experience.

As leaders we need to be courageous enough to give and receive this feedback.  You can’t dish out what you can’t accept.

So again, what happened?

I was in high school by the 90’s and well on my way to messing up as an adult (like so many of us).  In other words, I was busy and didn’t pay attention to the millennials as they grew up in the 90’s.  I think about who raised them.  I land primarily on people who were born in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

What made their parents start giving out participation trophies? When did “hard work” become something to be diminished? I have a theory.

The generation of the 60′ & 70’s watched a lot of people protest things they considered “unfair”.  Civil rights, women’s rights, Wars, Government, etc.  If it wasn’t right, they were going to protest it.  Vietnam was the first war that was really “televised”, so the pain associated with seeing caskets coming home was too much.  These 60’s and 70’s kids lived through that and a lot of them were growing up similar to me, in a world of brutal honesty.  If they didn’t perform well, they didn’t get a trophy.  Well to them, they received the message loud and clear that if things weren’t going their way, they should protest.

“Why should I walk home empty handed, it doesn’t feel good.”

As this group got older and began having children, their presence became prevalent in PTA meetings and sports teams.  They pushed for brutal parity and fairness for all.  “Everyone should get a trophy”.  Most of their babies (born in the late 80’s and 90’s) are now coming into the workforce and don’t have the life/work skills to cope with the reality of their everyday.

People like me (Gen-X) who are in the early to mid 40’s who grew up in the last honest decade, are now starting to run things and we’re like “what the heck?”

I think we’re learning to accept and understand millennials, as opposed to changing them.  It’s our job to find out what they want and allow them to see the value in paying dues in order to get it.  That statement makes me want to clarify something.  All millenials aren’t entitled and some understand that hard work, education and sacrifice are what makes you successful.  Some millenials have been coddled by Mommy and Daddy so much that when they hit reality, it’s like a smack in the face.  The millenials with smart parents who raised them right are thriving in the workplace, far surpassing those who think they can get it just because they want it.  We cannot allow our millenials to remain soft in a hard world.  We may be older, but with age comes wisdom and experience.  We know what works.  It’s our job to show them and also to learn from them.

Yes, we need to learn from millenials.  They have a lot of good ideas, actually, they have some of the best ideas.  With all of their freedom and self-esteem comes a high level of confidence and creativity.  I have been amazed time and time again by the contributions of millenials who are willing to put in the work.  These are the best of the best.  We must harness that and morph it into the hard work and ethics of our previous generations.  If we can do that, we have the chance to become the greatest people in the history of the planet.

I know that most people who grew up like me are bringing up their kids in the same manner with which they grew up.  Hard, with a little rough edge.   We should learn to also give them opportunities and allow them to spread their wings, while instilling hard and smart work values.   If we can consistently do this, I wonder what the next generation’s value system will look like?  And the one beyond that?