Most people who are good at what they do are not casual, particularly high achievers. Ordinary people who lead quiet lives but strive for worthy, satisfying goals are also not casual.
Casualness is the easy path, and it is changing America. With all of the casualness, who really should ever need a break? Consider: the resistance to the work ethic concept of “daylight to dark,” no dress requirements at work and few if any at school; and very little training of employees in customer relations (is this the reason we’re seldom thanked for giving an establishment our business?).
The new thing is to just chill and hang. Understand me, dude?
Professional sports get lots of bad press for their bad boys, but there are still many exemplary pro athletes who resist our culture’s casualness and push themselves to be their best. Quarterback Peyton Manning, whether or not you like the Denver Broncos, knows the rewards of intentionality. By no means a stuffed shirt, Manning works constantly to improve his passing and his person. Like his predecessor, Tim Tebow, he knows when to work and when to play, when to be serious and when to relax. Like Tebow, he appears to be no less joyous for it.
Why is it that where I grew up, the poorest of the poor dressed up for Sunday church? They did so for the same reasons they “picked up” if company was coming — respect and pride. Some occasions simply require a touch of semi-formality, and even poor, uneducated people can recognize and honor it.
Rural areas of the nation are still far more attentive to social decorum than are metropolitan dwellers. We urbanites and suburbanites are the ones who think we can “hang” anywhere we go, wear flip-flopping flip-flops and bare our beautiful belly buttons to the world. Get my point, dude?
Was President Reagan silly for his self-imposed rule of never entering the Oval Office absent a coat and tie? Are corporation representatives being sniffy when they complain of college seniors who come to campus job fairs dressed like high school sophomores? Would it matter if the Pope dressed down, shucking his robe while addressing a throng? Apparently some evangelical preachers wouldn’t mind, since so many of them are already dressing like teenagers, erroneously thinking youthful dress is the way to “reach” teens. If only they knew how teens privately snicker at such.
What good is “reaching” if we’re not teaching?
Casualness is taking its toll on America’s social fabric. An example is our less than intentional view of marriage. Recently on NBC, anchor Savannah Guthrie announced she will soon marry and she and her fiance are pregnant. Well, how very nice! Or at least her colleagues on the set thought so, erupting with celebratory gladness.
But what is the effect on a 16-year-old girl when she sees the beautiful, talented Guthrie announce — announce! — her out-of-wedlock pregnancy on television? Does it make her parents’ job of parenting any easier? Guthrie, of course, is one of boo-coodles of entertainment and media stars who have long flaunted their casualness about the institution of marriage and out-of-wedlock births.
To entertainment and media stars let’s add politicians since Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed also recently announced he and his fiance are expecting a child. How, pray tell, does Reed view the example he has set? And how does it affect young blacks and the 72 percent out-of-wedlock birth rate among black Americans? (The local anchor who announced Reed’s impending fatherhood was also gleeful.)
Recently, I gave a speech to some successful Marietta community leaders that centered on our casualness in setting examples for youth. I referred to the nation’s out-of-wedlock birthrates amongst blacks, Hispanics, and non-Hispanic whites (72, 53 and 29 percent, respectively). Though appreciative, I was floored by the standing ovation and the adjectives “bold” and “refreshing.”
Driving home, I began to fear that if my speech was bold and refreshing, then traditionalists like myself have indeed been marginalized. To me, what I spoke was time-honored common sense.
Yet I know that to a growing number of Americans, the statistics above are merely “evolving sociology,” or “demographic realities” that must be accepted. They’re realities alright, but where and to what are they leading us?
Dictionaries say that casual means “careless” and “unconcerned.” In plainer language that means “ho-hum.” But I for one can never be ho-hum about our slide into casualness because I know what it is doing to our youth, to the tenor of things at school, and to our nation.
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.