When Mr. Rogers told you that you were special just for being you, he only meant to mollify what unnecessary chastisement and over-criticism remained of a guilty post-war America, ravaged by the 80’s market crash. After an economic depression, two World Wars—and a handful of shameful side skirmishes in South East Asia and the Middle East—Americans needed to feel that the entire world wasn’t on their shoulders. Mr. Rogers became the male figure that embodied characteristics of a loving father, a friendly neighbor, and one hell of a counselor.
In fact, he was really popular; and so was his philosophy of “special people” which eventually went on to influence the kind of pervasive institutionalization that later silenced the critics of misbehavior and performance, and rendered them irrelevant. After this shift in social ideology began, confidence took a dose of jet fuel and headed for the moon, as an anti-critical environment bent on vanquishing the evils of evaluation caused egos to swell. Though confidence is a powerful and useful thing, a bank note isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on without the existence of gold and silver that it represents—and, America was built on dreams backed with hard work and more modest self-evaluations.
In the midst of such immediate stark contrast to the rationales of hard work and sweat proposed before, people no longer had to worry about the process, only the dream. This in turn did two things well; it did something very good and something very bad. For the good, this philosophy and message provided a kind of “credit” to younger generations, where boys and girls could feel good about having a dream in the first place. This start up “confidence on credit” opened a whole new world of possibility and made room for creativity that may not have existed under the more strict social statutes of yesterday.
However, this new era did something bad as well. A ways down the road, much like the credit crunch that ultimately lead to the recession of 2008, this “confidence on credit” began to surge. Just as credit obscures the true value of assets and markets by producing the illusion of growth and wealth, “confidence on credit” obscures the true value of someone’s efforts, value, and contribution to society as well as their potential.
No matter how invalid or impractical, despite what lack of effort people chose to employ, it wasn’t long before everyone had dreams about instant fame and wealth. In one generation, America’s motto went from “you can be anything you want if you work hard enough” to “if you want it bad enough you’ll get it”. As a result, today, attitudes now convey the message that “I should have it because I want it”, being void of any mentioning of the effort necessary to obtain it.
Even more disturbing is when the effort is mentioned in the elaborate products of rhetoric about what hard work is being done, despite the true scarcity of it. The belief in the dream itself is so powerful that it can blind people as to the “how” and “effort” part of the equation. In some instances, this fixation becomes intense to a point that such people will talk about—and even believe in—this image of them working very hard, when in actuality they haven’t done much more than the person next to them. Being exceptional just because you believe yourself to be so, has become the equivalent of working to be the exception. It’s become easier and easier to believe that we are doing more and more when it simply isn’t true.
I can now see the crowd of disapproving brows, mashed creases of skin paving the forehead of disgusted readers. They will say that there is no harm in believing, that believing is the first step—and for the most part I agree. But I say the first-step is also the first step, and believing comes after, but by then, people continue believing but forget to step again. Really, what they want to say is that this new confidence is best, that “confidence on credit” creates better people with a higher probability to fulfill their potential. But, then I wonder about the aspiring actress or singer who goes broke and drops out of school because they can’t let go of a dream America told them was all they needed. I wonder about the young entrepreneur or college student who puts themselves or their families at risk financially and emotionally for nothing. I wonder what greater potential they may have fulfilled by working hard alongside the dream, staying modest, or by simply staying practical, and finishing something for real.
Dreams are great, and so is the passion to fulfill them. Yet I cant seem to shake this feeling that there is more dreaming going on than working, and too many people are living off of “confidence on credit” with nothing substantially concrete to sustain them and their projected value. It’s only a matter of time until the bubble pops and all that’s left is the downward spiral of delusions realized.