One of my earliest memories is that of dropping a Hostess Twinkie into some dirt. When brushing it clean did not work, it occurred to me that I needed to wash the Twinkie. As I made my way to the sink, my mother, seeing what I was about to do, did her best to explain why washing would not work. It was obvious to me, that Mom did not know how to handle such things. Undeterred, I ignored her advice, and moved forward with my plan. As water poured over the Twinkie, I watched horrified, as it disintegrated into the sink. I quickly understood that my Twinkie was lost, and wondered how I was going to get out of admitting that Mom’s experience bested my unfamiliarity.
Looking back, I realize my mother could have just taken the soiled Twinkie from me and said, “I told you…”, but she didn’t. Mom was not one to straight out say no, so she relented to letting experience be my teacher. I strongly suspect, that as much as anything, she wanted to avoid the mess I was about to create, as much as she wanted to spare my inevitable disappointment. I may not have thought of it in those terms, but in essence it finally came to me that I could not escape acknowledging her wisdom.
Washing that Twinkie was not the last time my mother offered guidance by allowing my thoughts and actions arrive at their illogical conclusions. More than once, a movie has portrayed a little fellow who has had enough, and decides to run away from home. Yes, I did that one too. After calling my bluff, Mom helped me think through what I should pack. Soon, I was taking things out the suitcase as fast as she could put them in. While my Twinkie fiasco is my earliest mentoring memory of my mother, I tend to believe she did things like that from the moment we met. Experiential learning, is something both of my parents did well, and highlights their value as mentors in my life.
In time my friends and I became the 60’s generation. Deference is not something for which we are well known. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a famous mantra. Police were referred to as “Pigs”. The “Establishment” was by no means to be trusted, and in Vietnam we cynically said:
We the unwilling
Led by the unqualified
Do the unnecessary
For the ungrateful
We were proud of our opposition to the mentors who went before us, who like my mom, obviously did not know how to clean a Twinkie. Did we really have these attitudes towards the people who so lovingly and faithfully nurtured us? To a great extent, yes we did. I remember saying in class one day that having not asked to be brought into this world, I owed my parents nothing. Unknowingly, I said that in the presence of a student who only weeks earlier had lost his father. His verbal rebuff made me reconsider my words, but the point is, that everything was to be questioned, and authority was to be challenged.
Much of what was done then is still considered revolutionary today, and some of it was needed. Those who mentored us, the ones Tom Brokaw called, “The Greatest Generation”, instilled boldness in us, and fueled us with a willingness “to do”. Unfortunately, many of us were swept into action not fully understanding the idealistic concepts we promoted, and some of those actions held Twinkie destroying consequences from which we would need to recover. For whatever was right, wrong, or indifferent about that era, as the confrontations increased, for the most part, our mentors never gave up on us.
The 1968 election was its decade’s high watermark, and 2016 is set to be equally dramatic, though I hesitate to label it high or low as a watermark. It will be one from which our country cannot recover, just as 2012, 2008, 2004…1796 were. Every generation sees their moment as a turning point, wants to be right, and wants to demonstrate genius. They want this even at the risk of being wrong…dare I say, at the risk of washing a Twinkie? Every generation has its share of illogical conclusions from which to recover, which are tested in a crucible of resistance to change. In better times, resistance came from previous change enthusiasts, who now should be principled mentors.
Somehow, the Twinkie illustration seems to trivialize a presidential discussion. Then again, with two candidates running, both of whom lacks substance, maybe the Twinkie fits. With polarizing ideological issues masked by issues of honesty and morality, significance is reduced to dissolving the opposing candidate in a slurry of his/her character weakness. Washing Twinkies is expected from the young who lack perspective, but this situation has been thrust upon us by experienced people who should who should know better. Instead of guiding, the best they have, are campaigns using doomsday threats, meant to intimidate a weary electorate. Their hollow words hold up as well as a watered down Twinkie. What is truly sad, is the level of fear on the part of those who believe the sky will fall should the opposing candidate win. The magnitude of this election will not exceed 1968, or any other year. The election is barreling upon us, and with no viable options to avoid the mess about to be created, or to spare the inevitable disappointments. Going forward, the voices of fear need to be cast aside, and dedication to principle must be the foundation of future efforts.