I grew up believing most folks had built-in emotional and mental resilience. Most folks.
As a kid coming of age in the 1980’s my most vivid examples of “tough” wore football pads, like Joe Montana, Brian Bosworth, and Steve Largent. And while my parents were not deeply active politically, I was paying close attention. I may not have understood the intricacies of supply-side economics when I was twelve, but I understood peace through strength. Ronald Reagan delivered the grit our nation needed to keep the Russians at bay and to erode the evils of communism around the globe.
But tough didn’t mean continuously stoic. It didn’t mean steadily aggressive. It just meant a staid resilience. It meant knowing bruises heal and to keep burning legs moving to reach the extra mile. It meant persistence and motion against resistance, toward a worthy goal. It meant looking within to find the emotional and mental resources to endure difficulty and pain. Tough had a smell, that of sweat and blood and tears.
For me, it meant finishing moving that line of irrigation pipe in deep mud when I didn’t feel like it. It meant going to football practice when I didn’t feel like it, or going to church or finishing that boring homework assignment. Yep, even when I didn’t feel like it.
When I think of those days, not knowing then what the future held for me and the world, it’s a bizarre comparison to flash forward to this new age. This enlightened age. The results of three and a half decades of progressive thought since then that have produced new concepts like microaggressions and safe spaces, cry rooms and trigger warnings. It wasn’t in me to cuss back then, but I would have wondered, “What in the hell?”
Something tells me I wouldn’t have been the only one wondering how a society considering itself enlightened seems so chaotic.
I could not have anticipated to what level many Americans would wake up, look at information feeds on handheld devices to find things to be offended about. I would not have anticipated the level of entitlement, nor the expectation that providing basic needs would become a burden shifted from the self to the collective. Most starkly, I did not anticipate the lack of emotional maturity that would entrap and imprison the minds of many full grown adults.
Lacking civility is not our problem. We lack the emotional resilience that produces it. We’re losing that inner grit that can neither co-exist with feelings of entitlement nor grasp bizarrely inane concepts like microaggressions and safe spaces. We have replaced that civility-producing grit with a predictable rage that governs news cycles and political processes, creates both villain and hero caricatures, and always — always — demands a solution from outside the self. It is sadly disempowering to constantly, with indignation, demand from the collective your health care, your education, your economic opportunity, your doorway to elevation in life. It is emotional slavery to demand conformity to any one worldview and dismiss the rest as bigotry.
This lack of resilience has been institutionalized in academia and government, and especially our culture. We craft whole agencies and policies around it. Political constituencies are formed upon it. Yet, it is not indefinitely sustainable. Grit prevents chaos and violence. It drives the process of creating true solutions.
How long do we survive without this grit? Perhaps not for long, and most certainly not forever.