Earlier this year we entered the United States as a family for the first time in many years. So long ago were those times in the United States that our two oldest children have no recollection of their previous time here while the youngest was taking her first footsteps on U.S. soil. That detachment has allowed us to observe our culture through altered eyes.
Both time and cultural experiences have shaped and reconditioned our perspective that enables us to look from a different perspective. At times, our detachment has created awkward interactions or uncomfortable experiences. Yet, that has also allowed us the ability to make observation and have conversations from those observations that we may not have otherwise had. From that there are three general inferences we have noted during this time in the States.
As a result of sin, there is a natural inclination towards selfishness, and it seems to be more blatant upon returning. People care little about how their words and actions impact others, but only regard them according as much as they elevate themselves. Driving serves as a tremendous example of this. As a father, I’ve become very concerned about the driving experience in the States (and it’s interesting to see how it varies from one state to the next) because in selfishness they put my family at risk. What I’ve seen has been a blatant disregard for regulations, such as not stopping at stop signs or passing when not permitted. There is a distinction here: I’m not referring to the mistakes that one can make, but a willful civil disobedience against the laws that provide safety. This willful disobedience is indicative of the ‘me first’ attitude that consumes many people and it impacts their interaction with society.
Additionally, the level of hate towards one another appears to have increased. Respectful disagreements no longer exist, but an attitude of us versus them prevails. Even kind dialogue between strangers seems to be a rarity these days. In the supermarket recently, I needed to pass by a lady. I came upon her while her back was turned and simply said, ‘Excuse me.’ In my mind it was a reasonable request and I had said it nicely. I was unprepared for the expletives, name calling, and lecture that came out of the woman’s mouth over those two words. While this was certainly an extreme example, observing kindness, even amongst strangers, has been a rarity.
Finally, people are hurtful. It is not enough to dislike a person’s views but must result in disdain of the person and represented by disparaging them. I am not sure when name calling became permissible as a form of logical argument, but it seems to be the most employed form of argument these days. I used to read the letters to the editor of our local paper online which were usually met with all kinds of hurtful remarks about the person’s character for writing such a thing (I even wrote a letter to address the issue which resulted in me being disparaged by those very same people for calling them out). A person cannot make a mistake, commit an act of youthful immaturity, or misspeak because it will require of the person his/her lifestyle and livelihood.
Admittedly, these observations come from one perspective and are generalizations, but the view we have had is one of outsiders and insiders, far reaching through our travels in 20 of the lower 48 states these past four months. Also, it would be unfair of me to make broad conclusions about our culture. Instead, they are simple observations of what we have seen since we’ve been back in the United States.
Talks with others reveal similar concerns, but for Christians they inspire a level of hope unrealized by a secular culture. Hope seems contrary to the society that was just described but apart from hope it would be a troublesome society. The first hope is the hope of Christ’s first coming. Such a hope is established in the gospel and encouraging to believers because it is this hope that initiates transformation individually and corporately. With the proclamation of the gospel hearts are changed, influencing interactions between individuals. Additionally, there is hope in the final coming of Christ. Such a time will be characterized by unity motivated by worship of a Savior. Of little importance will be petty squabbles, personal preferences, and the tearing down of others. Both perspectives offer a glorious hope while existing in a time of insecurity and compel us to remember the gospel at all times.