A few years ago, I remember asking a good friend, George Guzzardo, some questions I had regarding different areas of my life. George definitely has ‘fruit’ in his life worth following. But, with all of his wisdom he didn’t answer my questions directly. Instead, his advice was, “Only listen to people who have the results you’re looking for in life.” He suggested reading some specific books for different areas of my life and offered for me to get back with him for discussion. I thought that was strange. Why didn’t he just give me straight up advice? What I didn’t realize was George was leading me down a path of self-learning and discovery. He was giving me a hand up and not a hand out. He was encouraging me to think on my own and, through his life example, to start a process of evaluating the information I had been ‘listening’ to over the years.
As I looked back over the years of all the inputs I allowed into my life, some startling discoveries unfolded. In my early 20′s, I was going through somewhat of an identity crisis. I was confused at what it meant to be an American citizen. I lacked an understanding of our national history and felt I was a part of a culture that appeared to be less sophisticated and diverse than other countries. In high school, I remember studying history as a bunch of boring facts and dates, nothing of real importance. I didn’t think it worth my effort to pursue in college, so I shied away from history classes because I didn’t want to continue the misery.
My cultural education came at the end of each day when I would tune into the TV for my entertainment fix. I was like a drug addict with ADD: If it didn’t grab my attention in the first 5 minutes, if it wasn’t fast, funny, and entertaining, I was on to the next channel. I watched enough TV to convince myself that Americans were ignorant, selfish, rude and lazy. It is no surprise why I was so confused about life after completing my undergraduate degree in pharmacy. So, I went on a trip to Europe to ‘find myself.’
While traveling for nearly two months from England to Italy, I experienced the dichotomy of American versus European culture first hand. I sipped the architecture, language, food and art and was drunk with new experiences. Each day was a new adventure and the people were so different. It was fascinating to cross an imaginary boundary line traveling from country to country and to experience the change in customs, food, history, language, currency, and clothing. What a culture shock when I returned! I remember arriving back in the states disillusioned and embarrassed with American culture. Everywhere I looked there was a fast food billboard and a street named ‘Anywhere, USA,’ with franchise chains lined up for miles. The neighborhoods seemed sterile, cold, unfriendly and distant; all of this confirmed my frustration with being an American.
For years this disillusionment and dissatisfaction disturbed me. Why has the United States of America become a laughing-stock for the rest of the world? How come I knew so little about our American history, let alone nothing about European history? Was it because we didn’t have a significant history to study and celebrate? Maybe the United States of America was too young to have any significant history or culture. After all, when I was in Rome, the city was celebrating its 2300th (something like that) birthday and our country was a mere 221 years old. My Italian friends seemed to know more about my country than I did – that was embarrassing.
These questions plagued my mind and it wasn’t until I read a book by author Oliver DeMille, A Thomas Jefferson Education, that a different picture was painted. DeMille describes our current public educational system as a ‘conveyor belt education’ where the standards are set so low that virtually everyone gets through and mediocrity and conformity are celebrated.
My personal experience supported his statements, so I wanted to find out how my children were responding to their public education. Recently I asked them what they had learned about Christopher Columbus in school. “He was a guy that came to North America to steal from and kill the Indians” they said. I was shocked! In my children’s mind, a devoutly Christian man, who is one of the most significant historical figures of the modern world, had been reduced to trivial and distorted facts void of the true spiritual influences that directed him. Who’s writing the text books these days? Perhaps we need to start requiring the authors to tell us their worldviews so we can make decisions whether we want to let that information into our lives. Maybe we need to first define our own worldview so we have a foundation to work from.
So, were my kids wrong? No, I think they just regurgitated what was taught to them in school, ‘conveyor belt style.’
This leads me back to the question, did Americans, like myself in my younger years, naturally become ignorant, or are we a product of our educational system? Did Americans just drift into selfishness, laziness and lives without purpose, or are we products of a media message that has striped the United States of its morals, history, culture, heritage and identity?
There isn’t a cut and dry answer to this question; you ask a hundred people and you’ll get a hundred different answers. I do believe there is a simple solution: It won’t be easy, but we need to take control of the information we let into our minds and homes. We need to stop the constant bombardment of entertainment programming, fantasy TV shows and stop allowing messages of no real substance or value into our lives.
In many cases it might mean filtering the programming coming in from cable TV and instead pick up a ‘boring’ history book, or a simple-to-understand book on economics or finances (yes there are some easy ones to read :)). In our family we went as far as canceling the cable TV. I know it sounds fanatical, but that one step has dramatically improved my marriage, increased the amount of quality time I spend with my children, and definitely helped my pocket book.
Let me bring today’s thought back to the beginning. I finally started to apply George’s wisdom to seriously evaluate the people and information I was letting educate me and my family. I plugged into a leadership training system through the TEAM and started to read books from the top authors in history and listen to CD’s from the top leadership teachers in the world. I started to mentor with incredible leaders like Dan Hawkins and Orrin Woodward (look for Orrin’s new book titled RESOLVED: 13 Resolutions for LIFE). I was finally filtering my inputs and, oddly enough, my disillusionment and frustration of being an American started to clear. I was getting truth into my life and it was like a breath of fresh air.
Today, I am proud to be an American! I am free from my entertainment addiction (I still get twitches though) and I am part of a growing community of people learning about our country’s rich history and incredible historical leadership and, get this, I actually enjoy studying history now! My children are starting to receive a balanced and thorough education as my wife homeschools them and we are pursuing excellence in all areas of our LIFE. For that, I am eternally grateful for the mentoring and coaching of my good friend – George Guzzardo. God Bless. Matt