These were impossible standards to live up to, of course, especially as a child with the natural greed and selfishness of a child, but that was okay. Being a good person wasn't something you could just DO, it was something you aspired to and everyone is flawed. One of my father's favorite phrases was "Nobody's Perfect" and "Don't be arrogant, there's always someone smarter, faster, stronger etc..." Accept your flaws and other people's too. Treat those in a worse position than you are in the way that you'd like to be treated. These were the lessons of my childhood.
Of course at some point childhood ends (Mine came with a headstone and a date) and you get out in the real world and find out that though the values I've described are oft described as admirable very few people actually care to pursue them. Americans are all about greed and getting what they can when they can. They cheat on their spouses because it's pleasurable and they think they can get away with it. They cheat on their taxes because no matter how often they claim that they wish others would do their part they THEMSELVES do not want to do their parts. They cheat in business because they'd rather be rich than honest. That's the way of things.
The thing is, it used to be that such behavior was shameful. Nobody wanted to be identified with socially destructive behavior because others would shun them. This lead to a lot of lying and hiding and revised history. It also helped keep at least some closer to the 'righteous' path for fear that they would pay a price.
At some point that stopped being the case.
Now we have an America of naked greed and ambition. An America where it's okay not only to push your neighbor to the side so your walk can be a little faster but where you are lauded for doing so. An America where the poor are a disease we could rid ourselves of if only antiquated laws and rules kept them plugged into the big government ventilator. We have an America that cheers shows like Survivor or The Apprentice, where backstabbing, betrayal, and fierce bloody competition are lauded. We have an America that no longer cares about picking up those who have fallen down, it'd rather point and laugh.
There's even a political movement for this new America, modern conservatism. It's built around the idea that true merit comes from acquiring as much power and wealth as you can, and that any other pursuits are horse shit fool's games. It's in bed with the church because church leaders care more about their own power and finances than anything else and both sides can benefit from the union. It's in bed with business because...well...it is business. It cares much more about lining pockets than how much mercury is allowed into the water supply.
The conservative ethos says that if you see a man lying on the ground bleeding you don't give him a helping hand, you take everything he has and if he complains about it you snap his neck with your foot. It claims that everyone looking out for themselves will result in the best possible world. They scoff at collaboration and communal property. They believe that once you obtain wealth you should be able to own it forever and ever and ever like a hoarding squirrel in a tree full of nuts.
When and why did this happen? When did it become okay to admit that you only care about yourself and everyone else can just DIE as far as you're concerned. When did hated and loathing become acceptable values? When did it become okay to say "I want everything I can have, and if my greed conflicts with your health then MY GREED SHOULD WIN." I don't understand. It's not good for society, it's not good for ANYONE. It's a horrible horrible Hobesian state of nature and it deserves not embrace but scorn.
Yet it's winning.
And I think about my walks with my father and how we'd look at the homeless and imagine a society where they would have a clean place to sleep and good food and the medicine they needed, and we'd smile.