Having lived in both California and Georgia for significant periods of time I have had an opportunity to observe a difference.
In the South I heard that California people were lazy and wanted to be on welfare and such. I thought the people saying this were crazy and backward and stupid.
Then, almost 10 years after moving back home to California I came to notice that there are an extraordinary number of people here who don’t really have it in them to strive.
There’s no fire within them telling them not to fail, not to give up, not to settle. They’re perfectly happy doing not much of anything, getting by with as little as possible, and accepting any manner of handouts from the government.
In the east, or the South (I’m not sure of any of these variables, mind you) there is less tolerance for this type of thing. There is a name there for people who don’t amount to much: they call them unmotivated. They call them unsuccessful. They call them losers.
Pros and cons
It’d be nice if one of these were better than the other in all ways. That’d be an easy piece to write.
But the reality is far more nuanced.
California seems to bundle two things together: 1) a tolerance (or even encouragement) of mediocrity, and 2) a built-in compassion for those who need more help than others.
The South seems to bundle different things together: 1) a demand and expectation that people excel, try their best, and do not tolerate laziness, and 2) a deep intolerance of out-groups and the weak and unsuccessful.
To get even more blunt (and inaccurate):
- California tolerates mediocrity but has compassion
- The South demands excellence and punishes anyone who doesn’t achieve it
Hybrids to the rescue
It seems clear to me that what is needed is a hybrid. We should demand excellence to a certain point, and not encourage people to be lazy or make them feel good for giving up.
But when it’s clear that someone has given their best, over the course of years or a lifetime, or when they have limitations that prevent them from being successful, it’s time then for the compassion to kick in.
I used to be quite anti-religion, and now as I mature I keep finding more advantages to it. Not for me, or for people like me, but for most people. I’ve come to learn that different people need different things.
So here’s a set of, “What ifs.”
- What if we made it to the moon because there were a whole bunch of Protestant Christians who demanded excellence from themselves and others?
- What if the best generation in U.S. history was made up of these conservative Christians who had an extremely limited view of what it meant to be a good person, and looked down on people not like themselves?
- What if the only thing that made the U.S. great was people like these pushing the boundaries of what was possible?
And here’s the worst of them:
- What if the California approach of telling everyone that it’s ok to try to be something, or not, to be successful, or not, to strive to achieve, or not–what if this mentality is deeply corrosive to our ability to innovate and be a good nation?
What if everything that made the U.S. great came from demanding excellence from everyone under the punishment of ridicule and marginalization? And what if NOT doing that guarantees mediocrity not just for individuals but for cities, and states, and countries?
I don’t have any answers here. I’m just starting to explore these ideas. But I’d love to hear from smart people who have opinions on the matter.
- Image from the New York Times.