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Random Thoughts
Mark Palermo, Haverhill NECC

In America, almost every generation is a “lost generation.” There was the lost generation of Hemmingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald in the 1920’s. Then there was the “beat generation ” of Jack Kerouac in the 1950’s. The 60’s and 70’s saw another lost generation when the hippies took hedonism to its extreme. But much of this current generation coming up now is, God help them, yet another lost generation. What distinguishes them is their emotional isolation, intellectual ignorance, their lack of critical thinking, and most disturbingly, their indifference to it all.

Recently my 14-year-old son told me a story. He was reading a book in the lunchroom at school. A girl sitting nearby asked him what class he was reading the book for; my son replied that it was not an assigned reading, but rather a book that he had chosen to read for pleasure. He said her mouth dropped open in shock. She couldn’t understand why anybody would ever read a book without being forced to do so.

In January, the results of  a survey  were released by  the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation,  which  showed that more than a third of high schoolers believe that the First Amendment goes “too far” in allowing free speech. Moreover, half of the students surveyed said that newspapers should not be allowed to publish stories freely without approval of the government.

How could so many of the kids ever turn out so dumb? Sometimes it seems to me as if they were being set up to be service workers, docile consumers, and complaint voters in the New World Order. As if some plan were in being carried out to keep them blind to their own potentials and talents. If that sounds like so much conspiracy theory, then consider the words of Fredrick Gates of the Rockefeller Foundation, spoken in 1913:

“In our dream, we have limitless re-sources, and the people yield themselves with perfect docility to our molding hand. The present educational conventions fade from our minds; and, unhampered by tradition, we work our own good will upon a grateful and responsive folk. We shall not try to make these people or any of their children into philosophers or men of learning or science. We are not to raise up from among them authors, orators, poets, or men of letters. We shall not search for embryo great artists, painters, musicians. Nor will we cherish even the humbler ambition to raise up from among them lawyers, doctors, preachers, politicians, statesmen, of whom we now have ample supply.”

*****

Telemarketers, don’t you hate them? They way they call at mealtimes. The way they use the telephone to intrude into your space. Yes, indeed, there are many reasons for you to hate them. But there’s at least one reason that you shouldn’t.

 It’s got to be one of the most thankless jobs in the world. Yes, I can think of worse- I endured several 4-d jobs (dirty,disgusting, depressing,dangerous) throughout my youth and even into early middle-age. But imagine getting sworn at all day by people whose meals you are interrupting. Imagine working for a faceless, monolithic international banking corporation. Imagine the stress of doing a boring, repetitive stressful job all day long every day. I am glad I don’t have to do jobs like this anymore. But why, you might ask, should anyone thank them for that?

First of all, while it is annoying, telemarketing is after all an honest profession. Instead of stealing for a living, dealing crack or even working as a conservative talk show host, these people are at least making an honest living. Isn’t that worth anything anymore? They are not evil people, but people like you and me- and they deserve our respect if not our time. People who work humble jobs are no less important in the big picture than anybody else- and deserve their measure of human dignity.

I recall an incident from my own life that demonstrates this forgotten value. Many years ago, I worked near the Mexican border as a construction worker. One day as the job was finishing, one of the guys suggested that we all go to the tavern for some beers. I remarked that there was no way I could go because I was too dirty-  covered in cement dust from mixing and carrying sand and mortar all day. The boss overheard me and said something that I still remember: “Hell, son, you’re not in Massachusetts. That’s honest dirt you’re wearing. And you can be proud of that around here.” I remember too that when I was a kid, parents taught that whatever job one does, it deserves to be done well. And that there is no shame in having a humble job as long as you do it to the best of your ability.

I think we could have a better world if we treated each other better

Mark Palermo is a professor at Northern Essex Community College. He is vice president of the faculty union.  You can email him at - markpalermo@lycos.com.

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Prior Columns by Mark Palermo