In the late 1960s and early 1970s Scholastic Books distributed four-page “newspapers” for kids. I was 10 in 1970 and recall being struck by a corner article that had a photo of a futuristic car that looked like a torpedo. The headline was in that “mod” ‘70s typeface: “Face the ‘70s!” I tried to imagine my Aunt Jenny getting into that torpedo car. It would take a couple sticks of butter to grease her up well enough to squeeze her in. I also remember T-shirts from back then with printing, “Archie Bunker for President.” I didn’t understand the sarcasm then and wondered if he was really qualified to take that office. Some of the things he said on TV caused my parents to send me off to bed early so I couldn’t hear him. Such a man didn’t seem very presidential to me.
Then there was that whole Peter Max cartoon thing, drawn like the Beatle’s Yellow Submarine characters. What was I supposed to see in that? The guy who sold pop and chips at the softball field on Friday nights told me that, unless I was “buzzing,” I would never get it. Now I was really lost. I had no idea how to properly buzz and anyway how could making such a noise cause anything to be different? Man, was that guy stupid.
Things like flower power, Richard Nixon, Woodstock, muscle cars, and college campus protests were on the news every night, but as the ‘70s waned, leisure suits, disco dancing, men wearing hairspray (LOTS of hairspray), and fuel economy were all the rage. Scratch that—the rage had let up, and a lot of stuff that used to matter suddenly didn’t matter anymore. This was a kinder, gentler nation, but many Americans were lost, rudderless, and incredibly apathetic.
Parents tried to pump their kids full of their version of the American Dream, but there were no takers. Kids looked at their parents working two jobs to keep the mortgage paid and car loans current and asked, “Are you sure this is a dream, Pop? Looks more like a nightmare!”
Kids finally faced their parents and said, “That’s YOUR dream—not mine!” I don’t want a life-mate, just someone to fill the empty chair right now. I don’t want a mortgage—I’ll rent and leave the responsibility to the landlord. This dream you speak of, Pop, is outdated.
Since the 1980s were so vacant of conscience and the 1990s were completely undefined as to the American Dream, the high-pitched promise of the movers and shakers became a low rumble, off-key grunt, resonating as “Hey, whatever.”
A New Attitude
So now, galloping into this world comes another problem-avoiding generation, and we are supposed to be hanging our hopes on them for the future. I recently read about memos now circulating in many companies about how to treat, engage, hire, and appreciate the newest wave of employees. These new hires evidently have different goals, wants, and motivations, so if the workforce hopes to retain these individuals, there have to be some changes made. They have skills. Computer gymnastics like you could never imagine. They have friends and talk to them all day long, reporting every move they make: “Going to lunch now—starving. Just talked to mom—boring—almost dozed off--#uptoolate.” Their circles are tight but non-committal, and their opinions are strong. They hate what they don’t like and love what they do. Their attention spans are frighteningly short, and those who wish to harness their powers need to learn the beauty of the “sound bite.” If someone starts telling a long story, a compelling tale, they will simply reach in their pocket and turn up the volume of those strings hanging out of their ears.
Now—here’s the comedy.
As traditional as I am, some of what these guys tout is dead-on right. Remember the boss you could barely tolerate but you did because it was the respectful and right thing to do? These new guys walk out on that person. They will put a hand up in his face and walk out. If it means a little national healthcare or taking the bus instead of owning a car and scraping together major deductibles, so be it. What’s the loss? If the price is having that guy shoving his agenda on you, forget it.
The same with food demands. Do you think the popularity of these build-your-own-Mexican-bowl places is a coincidence? They are driven by this evolving group that says, “Yeah, Secret Sauce, my foot. I not only want to know what you’re putting in my dinner but want to see you do it!” The sudden rise of Whole Foods and EarthFare type stores smacks of the same frankness.
The Ground Rules
So let’s cut to the chase. If you want to understand the new American Dreamers, here are the ground rules:
- Don’t sell me any story about fairytales in the future. Good jobs take hard work, and if I have the tools and desire to work like that, I will, but if I don’t--leave me alone.
- I don’t buy your blind respect for politicians and authority. I’m not a ‘70s clueless rebel. I just believe what’s real and if you claim to be real, I’m going to let the Internet vet the heck out of you because there are no longer any secrets.
- Don’t hang me up with the things that matter to you. If I want a mortgage, a baby, or a spouse, I will go about getting one. If I reach the age of 50 and have none of those, I’m not a loser—it’s simply a choice I made.
- Don’t think I have lost touch with the things that used to be important. I love my parents and my siblings, but I refuse to love them only by the standards the rest of the world sets up. I may forget a birthday card or to call on an anniversary, but it doesn’t diminish how I feel.
- I am real, fair, and honest, and seek happiness. Don’t judge me or the route I choose. If you lie to me or think you have power over me just because of the choices you’ve made, I’ll be quick to call you out on it. I have the tools to expose your faults, and we both know you have them too. My agenda is clear. I want to enjoy my life.
Is this the redefined American Dream? Maybe. Or maybe just a modified version of what we were really shooting for the whole time.
Ron Ciancutti has worked in the parks and recreation industry since he was 16 years old, covering everything from maintenance, operations, engineering, surveying, park management, design, planning, recreation, and finance. He holds a B.S. in Business from Bowling Green State University and an M.B.A from Baldwin Wallace University. He has held his current position as Director of Procurement since 1990. He is not on Facebook, but he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.