There is an old story about two frogs. The first frog was tossed into a pot of boiling water. He screamed — Yeah, I looked it up, frogs can actually scream — http://conservationreport.com/2009/03/03/nature-screaming-frogs/ — and then he jumped out of the pot. He checked himself over. He took a few frog breaths, and then he moved on with his frog life.
But the second frog was different. He was tossed into the pot while the water was still cool. The frog swam around. He checked everything out and saw nothing to be concerned about so he settled in. Then the burner under the pot was turned on, the water all around the frog began to heat up, slowly. But the frog doesn’t seem to notice or care. Bit by bit the water temperature increased. There were no frog screams. There were no frog escape attempts. The frog simply remains in the pot until the water boiled. And until —. Dead frog.
Now, this phenomenon is often referred to as creeping normalcy or a shifting baseline and it describes the state that occurs when change occurs slowly, in small steps, over time. And because we only see the parts of the change not the total change itself, we don’t react to it.
Every day. Every moment. Our lives change. What is normal today was not normal only a few years ago.
Now, yes, technology has something to do with this. But the big changes, the sweeping changes, the dead frog changes, have very little to do with technology. These changes are driven by shifting priorities and varying acceptance.
Now let’s turn back the clock a bit. Let’s take a look at our normal, everyday lives through someone else perspective. Let’s go back in time but not simply to the generation before us — born in the 1950’s — but to the one before that — the ones born in the 1920’s and ’30’s. This is the generation that fought in World War II. This is the generation that fought in Korea — in fact, many WWII vets volunteered to fight again in Korea. This is the generation that was raised through The Great Depression. This is the generations that struggled and sweated and built the structure of this country and is the one that lead Tom Brokow to deem it as “…the greatest generation any society has ever produced.”
If we are going to look at the everyday structure of our society, then what better generation to view it through than the eyes of that group of men.
Through the eyes of our grandfathers.
Now, these changes are not large cultural and world changes — because the big changes are not the interesting ones. What’s fascinating is the little stuff. The tiny insignificant items that move and wiggle and shift all around us until one day we wake up and see it all as normal. But this version of normal would cause our grandfathers to smack us on the back of the head.
So what would these men — our grandfathers — think of the every day, the basic, the routine, aspect of our lives today?
THE FIVE THINGS OUR GRANDFATHERS WOULD KICK OUT TAILS FOR.
1. Bottled water.
This is one of those dead frog changes that has built up slowly for the last few decades and is now so embedded in our culture that we don’t even notice it. But think about it. We are paying —- for water.
The stuff that comes out free from sinks and water fountains and garden hoses?
Which means that in a factory some place, someone turns the tap on, filters the water for taste — because our sensitive twenty-first century palate wants all our water to taste the same — squirts it into a plastic bottles and we buy it by the truck loads.
In fact, the bottled water industry is a 60 Billion dollar industry. But did you realize that we buy more bottled water than we buy milk? And ready for a real surprise? We also buy more bottled water than we do — beer.
So, say we yanked a solider out of the battlefield of World War II and brought him to the modern day. Then we gave him three bucks and said, Okay, go to that convenient store and buy me a bottle of water.
The soldier would look at you strangely. He would walk into the store and open the cooler. He would pick up the water and look at the money you gave him and then look at the bottle of water. He would check the ingredients — nope, just water. And then he would walk back to you.
“No,” he’d say. “I can’t do it.”
It would be so foreign to him that he wouldn’t be able to do it.
2. The backyard deck.
Backyard decks are great places. It’s where we entertain family and friends. It’s where we barbecue and it’s the place we often relax. But in our grandfathers day there was a place called the front porch and this was a social place. An open and connected place to sit and visit with neighbors.
During this time it was very common to finish dinner and take a walk. And during this walk you would stop and visit with the folks sitting on their porch. You would connect with the neighborhood. Hear the gossip and check up on people. When you had visitors at your home, you often sat on the porch. When you listened to the ball game, you did it on the front porch so anyone could stop and listen with you.
The front porch was open. The front porch was inviting.
When the front porch became a merely decorative place, our neighborhoods became less involved with us and we became less involved with them. Now, we can now drive into our driveway, hit the electronic garage door opener, drive into the garage and never see our neighbors.
Your grandfather probably had a set of ESSO Put a Tiger in Your Tank coffee mugs. They were thick and white and very common and he probably had a few of them. Why? Because they gave them away free when you purchased ESSO gas. Your grandfather had the coffee cups with the ESSO tiger logo on it because they were free. No other reason. If they had offered to sell those same mugs — even at a very low cost — your grandfather would have sneered.
Why would I pay to buy someone’s name on a mug?
But today we do. We actually pay — and pay quite a bit — for the right to wear clothing, coffee mugs, key chains or hats that says Aeropostale, Harley Davidson or Nike.
And I haven’t even gotten into the sports logos yet. With sports we pay for the right to promote our favorite sports teams. And what would your grandfather say when you spent eighty bucks to wear your favorite quarterbacks jersey?
Your grandfather would want to know why any man would want to put another man’s name on his own back?
What’s wrong with your own name? —he’d ask. What’s wrong with doing something you are proud of instead of pretending to be someone else?
Now before you argue, that there wasn’t credit available in your grandfather’s day, you’re wrong. Of course there was. There has always been credit. The only difference is that in your grandfather’s day, credit was seen as a weakness not a reward. In his day, the people who used credit were the ones who could not afford to pay in cash. They were looked down on because a man in debt was no man at all.
Credit meant bad planning. Credit meant that you didn’t earn enough to take care of yourself and your family. The men that lived through The Great Depression and fought in foreign lands and came back home to raise families had only one rule. If you can’t afford it — meaning you don’t have the cash money to buy it — then you go without it.
Yes, your grandfather owned t-shirts — he wore them under his dress shirts. And the only time you saw him in wearing only it, was when he was sitting in his chair listening to the ball game, or when he was mowing the lawn. And if someone came to the door, he would grab his dress shirt and pull it on before opening the door.
When your grandfather went out to eat, he wore a tie. Even if he was a blue collar guy there was a sense of pride that he had.
Whether you were a ditch digger or a doctor, a lawyer or a shoe shine man, there was a sense of pride in appearance.
Now it’s casual —- well, that’s what we call it — but casual has long fallen into a new category. Now we have work clothes and everything else. We don’t dress for dinner at a restaurant, much less dress for dinner at our home.
Your grandfather did. He would often dress to eat dinner with his wife and family. Because it was an event. He was proud to have earned the money for the food. He was proud of his home and wife and his children.
Your grandfather had pride.
And that’s probably what it boils down to. Pride. Our grandfathers had it and we as modern men are lacking it.
Why did they have it? Because they deserved it. They fought and sacrificed and planned for it. They earned that pride — it wasn’t given to them, they paid for it several times over.
When is the last time we sacrificed or went without? When is the last time that we felt real pride in something — not simply in the pride in a new car we owe on or of what comforts we can rent. But true, bone deep pride?
… for most of us, it’s been a long time.