Freelance Column: A Personal Apology For My Generation

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DianeHardy
DianeHardyhttp://momandpopalliance.org
Diane Hardy is a small business owner and founder of the Mom and Pop Alliance of South Carolina. She submits on behalf of the Mom and Pop Alliance of South Carolina.

Our Generation: “It is time for each of us to assess our gifts and talents and decide how we can help …”

Reprinted with permission from  FITSNEWS

by DIANE HARDY

I often reflect on how lucky I am to have been born in America at the time that I was.  It was like winning the lottery, being born in this amazing country and experiencing the historical dividends from decades of prosperity and peace. I couldn’t ask for more; well, maybe having been born in South Carolina instead of the north, but you can’t have everything. At least I found my way to the Palmetto State as soon as I could.  

My generation has provided much in the way of technology and innovation, but civically speaking – we have totally dropped the ball. Seeing what has become of our nation – and how my generation has completely failed future generations – is very sad and disheartening. It is not the legacy we should be leaving. Those of us who are 50+ years of age are of the generations that produced much of the horrendous policies coming from our government. It’s not that we necessarily pushed for these policies, but I believe our apathy allowed them to take root

Over the decades, our lack of involvement in the governing process allowed things to devolve into the dysfunctional mess in which we now find ourselves. Left unchecked, government will always grow, without exception. As the expression goes, you will get the government you deserve, and sadly we are experiencing that firsthand. My generation’s inability to exert our civic authority, our ignorance of civic duty, and in some cases our own hedonism and unwillingness to devote some of our leisure time to maintaining our Republic are largely responsible for our current mess. 

I will say I don’t believe it was willful on our part. Most of us grew up before the widespread use of the internet – so we were easily manipulated into believing the best about governmental institutions.  Furthermore, we were incorrectly taught that voting was all that was required of us. Some of us plugged in to the political process during election cycles, thinking we were fulfilling our civic duty, but not realizing that by doing only that we were maintaining a democracy (which we are not) rather than maintaining a Republic. A Republic requires some level of civic engagement from us throughout the year (not just during elections). The Founders envisioned that we would know our local elected officials and would play an active part in supporting and guiding them while in office so they would never lose touch with “the people.” They saw it as a reciprocal partnership. We weren’t aware that self-governance was supposed to be part of our daily lives. We didn’t anticipate the complete dysfunction of a system where we know more about a senator from Pennsylvania or congresswoman from New York than we do about our own county councilman or state representative.  

We are told we live in a democracy – and we receive a little sticker to show we voted – but we weren’t told that it requires more than that to maintain our Republic. We say we need more people voting, but I believe that is wrong; what we really need is more well-informed folks voting AND we need our engagement to go beyond voting.

No one explained this to us, though. We were also told not to discuss religion or politics which only served to further hinder the exchange of ideas and involvement from the citizenry. 

My generation was taught to work hard, raise our kids, and then thoroughly enjoy our retirement years. No one explained to us that part of the deal was to be continuously carving out just a little time to maintain our Republic. Self-governance requires some sort of commitment from ordinary citizens. In the words of Ben Franklin, it is “a Republic if YOU can keep it.” 

He was addressing each of us. 

Everything of importance in life requires time and maintenance: our homes, our cars, even our friendships. Keeping our Republic is no different. We were not taught this in school, and it wasn’t explained to us by our parents who mostly just wanted their kids to have it easier than they did. But therein lies much of the problem: my generation had it too easy. And regrettably, many in my generation spoiled their children even more which has produced an even more self-absorbed society.  

I’m sorry to say that for the first forty-five years of my life, I was as guilty as anyone. I took our Republic and its individual freedoms for granted. I usually voted, but that was it. I didn’t follow or pay attention to local or state government, and I certainly wasn’t devoting any of my free time toward maintaining our Republic. I had no idea that without the citizens’ knowledge and willingness to continuously engage, a complete void was being created in our local, state, and federal levels of government, only to be filled by special interests, pro-big-government activist groups, and corporations and organizations pushing agendas. I guess it shouldn’t surprise anyone that given our absence as an informed and engaged citizenry, corruption has overtaken a great majority of our representative governing bodies and governmental agencies. 

***

“We just witnessed more candidates running in SC at the state level than we have seen in generations.”

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But fortunately, when you know better you can do better – and there have been some promising signs of late.I see more people paying attention at the state and local levels of government than seemingly ever before. As our nation’s decline becomes more obvious, we see many more folks getting educated and willing to give of their time to get involved. We just witnessed more candidates running in South Carolina at the state level than we have seen in generations. THANK YOU to all who were willing to step up and run for office. Hopefully we are now learning that if we all donate just a little of our free time in the most effective way possible, it can have an impact. We cannot rely on someone else to fill this void or a hero to make it all better; we will all need to do our part. Perhaps we are finally realizing that we need to put less time and energy into the presidential and federal levels of government where we have little influence and rather, focus more on local and state government which is more in keeping with the self-governance designed by our Founders. 

For my generation, it’s never too lateas evidenced by state representative Joe White who ran for state office in his late 70’s and won! He decided to make a significant sacrifice by giving up his retirement years to serve in the State House with a true servant’s heart. When asked why he decided to take the time at this stage in his life to serve in Columbia, he said, “how can I spend my retirement years traveling and in leisure while I watch our country fall apart?” 

Joe is now battling a serious cancer diagnosis but says that won’t stop him. Whether you agree with his politics or not, we should all respect his sacrifice. I’m not suggesting we all drop our lives and run for office, nor am I saying my generation needs to give up golf, pickleball or going to the beach. But I am saying that we all need to assess our God-given gifts and find some small contribution we can make so our children have a chance at enjoying the wonderful freedoms we have taken for granted for way too long. 

 If you don’t like politics (which is most of us) I have good news! The great thing about self-governance is that it isn’t about being Republican or Democrat (our Founders would be appalled by the partisan red/blue teams), and it isn’t necessarily about politics, political campaigns, or running for office (although that is part of it). It can be as individual and as creative as one would like. For example, it could be just showing up at city council or school board meetings and keeping your circle of influence informed on what is happening there. It could be partnering with local parents to help bring more transparency regarding the school’s curriculum. Perhaps it involves reaching out and helping others you think are making a difference in maintaining our Republic. The possibilities are endless. 

 My personal self-governance is expressed in the founding of the Mom and Pop Alliance of SC. Pulling from my experience as a small business owner as well as from the many relationships I have built in helping dozens of state level legislators over the years seemed like the perfect way to give back to a state that I love and a nation that has given me so much. After seeing what happened during Covid and witnessing the influence of big business in Columbia, it was clear that an organization like ours was needed. Launching a statewide advocacy group isn’t for everyone (TRUST ME!) but giving hard-working family-owned businesses a stronger voice in our State House, and furthering free market principles seems like a very worthy endeavor. 

We cannot deny that, like every nation on the earth, our country has some very dark periods in its history, but no other nation has afforded so much hope and freedom for so many. On a personal level, I feel a strong need to give back after the amazing opportunities this nation has afforded my family. My husband and I are the first and only ones in our immediate families to attend college. His grandmother had a third-grade education, and yet he was able to find success through hard work. My father served during the Korean War, so it’s hard for me to sit back and watch our meritocracy be washed away by corruption, crony capitalism, and social justice warriors.  

I can’t bear the thought that my generation’s lack of knowledge and involvement could cause the unraveling of the Republic that former generations died for. It is the people of my generation, with our child-rearing days behind us, who have the time and possibly the financial resources to help undo the many decades of decline caused by our neglect. This has fallen apart on our watch, so I believe it is up to us to help fix it. It is time for each of us to assess our gifts and talents and decide how we can help. While we may not all be able to be a Joe White, we can all consider what we can do, and what our small part could be at the local or state level to help right this ship. 

Disappointingly, many from my generation don’t seem to know what time it is. I guess that’s because in our wildest dreams we never thought it could possibly fall apart. Too few of us are aware of the quote by Thomas Jefferson: “The qualifications of self-government in society are not innate. They are the result of habit and long training.” 

Now that we know better, I hope my generation will do better.  

Diane Hardy is a former nurse anesthetist turned entrepreneur, who opened a franchise at Verdae in Greenville over seven years ago. She is executive director of the Mom and Pop Alliance of SC, which she founded during Covid upon discovering South Carolina’s almost 400,000 small businesses had little representation in our State House. The Alliance provides education, communication, and advocacy for SC’s family-owned businesses. Her passion for South Carolina’s small business is strong, and as such she donates her time to the organization, accepting no salary or government funding.  Her love for our state isn’t new.  Before launching the Mom and Pop Alliance she was the founder and host of The Palmetto Panel (2014-2019), an annual statewide conference highlighting issues impacting South Carolina.  Diane has a bachelor’s degree in nursing and psychology from Michigan State as well as a master’s degree from MUSC.

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