The importance of a shared memory, by Shelly Aldean

Deleting unwanted emails each morning has become an all too familiar routine. Greeted by an inbox overflowing with solicitations and pleas for support, mostly from retailers and national politicians, I watch my index finger with an odd sort of detachment ritualistically delete one after another banishing them into the ether or wherever emails go to die. Several weeks ago, however, I caught a glimpse of an interesting subject line – “Thoughts from a hipster coffee shop …”. Curious, I opened the attachment and began to read.

Alyssa Ahlgren is a 26-year-old woman who decided to share her reflections one day while sitting in a coffee shop near Nokomis, Fla., scrolling through news feeds and reading pronouncements by certain presidential candidates about the need to “fix” the injustices of capitalism. As a member of an emerging electorate, she decided to share her perspective which runs afoul of the attitude of many young people today who criticize capitalism and fantasize about socialism as a functional alternative.

Glancing around the busy coffee shop she recorded her observations. “I see people talking freely, working on their MacBooks, ordering food they get in an instant, seeing cars go by outside, and it dawned on me. We live in the most privileged time in the most prosperous nation, and we’ve become completely blind to it. Vehicles, food, technology, freedom to associate with whom we choose. These things are so ingrained in our American way of life we don’t give them a second thought. In a time when we can order a product off Amazon with one click and have it at our doorstep the next day, we are unappreciative, unsatisfied and ungrateful.”

What accounts for this apparent disconnect between the benefits of capitalism we experience every day and the desire by some to change the very thing that has lifted more people out of abject poverty than any other economic system on earth? It is the forgetfulness that comes with distance from previous generations and the experiences of our forebears.

Although, as a Baby Boomer, I never suffered from the depravations of the Great Depression or lived through the trials of a world war, I learned to be grateful for the blessings I have through the memories of my parents who shared in vivid terms the challenges of their generation. This is a perspective that many young people sadly lack today. Having no basis for comparison and having only a fleeting knowledge of the history that molded this country, they are understandably naïve. As the old saying goes, “Those who cannot remember (or who are not taught about) the past are condemned to repeat it.” This is a sober reminder of the obligation we have as parents and educators to share the lessons earned by previous generations.

Many young people may be surprised to learn, for example, that America experimented with socialism in the 1600s. When the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth, Massachusetts they decided to practice collectivism. All labor was communal and all products of that labor were shared. As William Bradford, the leader of the Plymouth colony, later discovered, although the Pilgrims were a decent and pious people, being commanded to labor for others without recompense was deemed a form of slavery. So, in 1623 to avoid famine, the Pilgrims abandoned socialism and never experimented with it again. Hence, the importance of a shared memory.

Although by no means a perfect system, capitalism gives each of us the incentive we need to work hard for the benefit of ourselves and our families, which, by extension, helps the greater community through the voluntary generosity of those who prosper. This is evidenced by the fact that America is one of the most generous countries on earth. Not surprisingly, none of the top five most generous nations are socialistic.

Shelly Aldean is a Carson City resident.


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