The First Thing You Do Is Kill The Dog

Uncle Harry always advised: “Once the last kid is married, the first thing you do is kill the dog and change all the locks…!”

I used to laugh. I don’t laugh anymore. And neither will you once that time comes. You’ll be tempted to wave goodbye at the church smiling to yourself “mission accomplished.” Sorry, folks, but whether you knew it or not, you signed up for a life-time contract. Come their first crisis — broken heart, broken marriage, broken career — chances are you’ll hear from them. Usually in that dreaded late-night call. Their tears, their anger, their pain. See, you can kill the dog, but you can’t kill your ties-that-bind.

Nor can you kill the headlines. Those relentless rampaging headlines about death in the streets, chaos in the banks, and terrorists plotting in the shadows.

However, if you can take the historical vs the headline view of authors like Harvard’s Steven Pinker, it gets a little more encouraging. Professor Pinker’s new “The Better Angels of our Nature” statistically demonstrates how you and your kids are actually more safe and secure today than at any other time in humanity’s plague-ridden, blood-soaked history.

Good to know. But then why all the seething disillusionment spilling out into our nation’s streets from Wall Street to LaSalle Street to Rodeo Drive? Why the rise of this new Silent Majority?

Three years into the Great Recession, the answer is glaring us in the face. People without jobs, homes and hope haven’t time to read Pinker’s upbeat history. They’re too busy trying to make a better history for themselves right here and now. To date no one — president, congress, general, and now alas even Sarah Palin — has been able to really bring back America’s post WWII security and grandness. When everything’s this wrong, mass fear inevitably generates mass rage. Rage at anything and especially anyone they can find. There’s the smell of vigilantism in the air.

Journalist Corredo Alvaro, himself a parent, perfectly captured our mood: “The blackest despair that can take hold of any society is the fear that living honestly no longer has a future.” To drive home the point, the World Economic Forum currently ranks the US only 5th in global competitiveness, behind Sweden, Singapore, Finland and Switzerland; and a stunning 44th in science & math education.

By now even the outrageous 1% are feeling some of the despair stabbing into our national vitals. When people are in pain, they look for the thorn to pull out. Only it’s not just one thorn. Say like taxes, government, president. That would be like saying Beethoven’s Fifth is the one note of F-sharp. Obviously it’s a thousand different notes all inter-connected on scales and in cadenzas of enormous beauty but complexity.

So while the kids are still at hme — and even after they’ve gone — you and I are in life-long contract with both them and America. I can’t offer any advice about the kids, but to get the music that is America right, we need to find the best musicians and conductor available. Maybe that’s what the rage in the streets is really all about. Not a manifesto of policy objectives. Not a call for a new composition. Mainly the concert audience on its feet shouting for the sort of musicians and conductor who can play this magnificently complex music on key for a change….!

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  • "People without jobs, homes and hope haven't time to read Pinker's upbeat history." .... "The blackest despair that can take hold of any society is the fear that living honestly no longer has a future." .... Great quotes in a fine article Jack .... another Sunday surprise from the gifted wordsmith from Chicago.

  • That despair quote from Alvaro really sums it up for me....

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