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Ahhhh...If I were 20 years younger

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Published on: Friday, December 30, 2011

By Brian J. Karem

Ahh, if I were I 20 years younger . . .

I’ve heard this sentiment uttered from men and women older and younger than me.

There are a variety of reasons for saying it, though I confess I chuckle when I hear young men or women in their 20s with this lament on their lips. I guess they long for the days of the bottle and diapers otherwise I have no idea why they would say such things.

For me, there’s an unspoken part of that sentiment. I wish, when I say this, I was 20 years younger with the wisdom I have today – especially when I say this while coaching high school football players and trying to face off with them on the football field.

Seriously, I know it sounds maudlin, but I think my own children might listen to me more closely if I was a bit closer to their age - and not their parent. I know for a fact when I was in my 20s I considered most people who are my age now to be a bit buffoonish and quite out of it. So sure was I that I knew it all, I made numerous mistakes from the depths of my ignorance and arrogance.

Unfortunately I believe many of my generation have failed to learn from our mistakes. I sincerely hope I am not one of them. But it is clear my generation shoulders a lot of the responsibility for the mess on this planet.

We are too politically correct, too bitter, too fragile and far too selfish. We think everyone is out to do us harm and we harm others in an attempt to even the contrived score. I take no pleasure in saying it, but we’re a bunch of whiners who feel we’re entitled to something.

I fear we’ve passed this on to our children.

I know in some respects we have. Take for instance an issue that has been written about in the media from some weeks now: “The Occupy” movement.

What I’ve learned about the 99 percent versus the one percent doesn’t support the current movement. They feel entitled. But, what I’ve learned doesn’t support the rich either.

The true division in this country does indeed come between the haves and the have nots. It isn’t race, it isn’t religion and it isn’t Sexual Perversity in Chicago either. It is between those who have and control the means of production, wealth and power and those who do not.

But other than that, I believe if I were 20 years younger I would impress upon my peers there is little additional difference between the haves and the have nots.

That may sound facetious, but truth be told everyone faces the same needs every day. We all need food, shelter and clothing. What I’ve seen as a reporter who has spent a great deal of time with the homeless as well as some time with the most influential and affluent members of society is the difference, the real difference boils down to this; who can you get on your side?

Those without the means to manipulate the system have to fight every battle every day almost entirely by themselves. If you’re arrested, you don’t have the money to call an attorney. If you need a job, you may not have any way of finding gainful employment.

Thomas Hobbes said life is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. For many of us, he isn’t far from being right.

I’ve heard extremely rich people accuse those who are poor of being lazy or unfocused, while it’s been my experience that some of the poorest people I’ve met are not only intelligent but highly focused with a common sense I’ve seen lacking in the extremely rich.

I’ve known people with a great deal of wealth who can’t change a flat tire, nor cook a meal nor figure out how the American jurisprudence system works. Of course, a phone call to the right person gathers them that information and the people to work on the problem for them.

The poor do not have that ability.

They have themselves and very little additional support. They get tired.

True, I have known great philanthropists, but those people are few and far between. Our overlying sentiment seems to be “I got mine, you get yours.” It doesn’t work that way. I confess I have never met a poor person who pulled themselves up by their own bootstraps. Someone, somewhere helped them. They helped themselves, of that there is little doubt. But someone, somewhere cared enough about them to see beyond the cliché, beyond the television-news aspect of life where one must be beautiful and properly made up, and saw someone as a human being deserving of love and understanding.

So, if I were 20 years younger, I’d encourage my peers to open their hearts, their minds and their souls to those who have less. Do not write laws out of fears which dominate and threaten to destroy our lives, but uplift, educate and emancipate.

You may say I’m a dreamer . . .John Lennon once said, or if you prefer, there’s a wonderful passage in this little book that I also like: “Let ye without sin among you cast the first stone.”

Call me a fool. I’m happily married with three children I dearly love and even with all that I’ve seen on the five continents I’ve traveled, the wars and the acts of depravity I’ve seen as a reporter – I still have hope.

Happy New Year!

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