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Change the standards - Martha Carr

There's something remarkably similar to the dual American problems of obesity and political trash-talking. Short-term solutions made situations worse, and in both instances, most of us didn't seem to notice till the problem was way out of hand.

We have become a nation that's more overweight than not, willing to watch people who call themselves politicians or policy makers trash-talk others.

Obesity started to get a really good hold on children when schools discovered they could make up badly needed funds by hosting a plethora of vending machines stocked with processed foods and sugar-filled sodas. This was happening at the same time that subsidized wheat became a cheaper filler on the lunch menu for children than green beans.

School boards took a short view of things, and they tried to solve an immediate problem without taking a realistic view at the long-term consequences.

Parents were also taking their kids through a growing list of fast food drive-throughs and our kids saw that faster, cheaper, more convenient was the new standard of how to have a good life.

Work, the soccer team, band practice were all more important than being at home to sit down for dinner. We all patted ourselves on the back at the time for being a nation of over-achievers, who didn't waste daylight just hanging around our families.

We had a different set of priorities.

In the 1980's, recess and gym were cut out of entire school systems to make room for 15 minutes more of math time, because the mind was deemed far more important than the body, at least in the short run. Hardly anyone put up even much of a fight.

As a result, our children learned that it's OK to pass off accountability for another time, and satisfy a need today. The further away the idea of sacrifice or moderation got from the every-day experience, the more entire generations began to feel entitled to eat as much of whatever they wanted, while sitting very still.

At the same time, the laws surrounding network news were loosened and it became OK to trash-talk someone else without having to give air time to opposing viewpoints. Infotainment became acceptable and ratings trumped accuracy.

Then cable came on the scene, and Ted Turner created CNN and the 24 hours news cycle during the beginning of the first Gulf War, when there was a lot of news to be covered. However, when things slowed down, there were still advertising dollars to be scooped up and competitors had jumped onto the scene. News had to be created in order to fill all those hours.

Overnight, celebrities behaving badly became a part of real news coverage. It was only a matter of time before some clever spin doctor whispered in a politician's ear that, if they wanted to get some air time, they were going to have to create a little drama. Thoughtful dialogue on policy just wasn't going to cut it anymore. Name-calling was in and good judgment had been left behind.

But that's not who we need to be anymore. We need to stop dead in our tracks for a moment and ask ourselves when enough is enough. Are we finally fat enough to make some hard choices and start being the adults for not only ourselves but our children?

Can we reverse a nasty trend and tune out those who have very little to say about their own decisions on policy, but plenty of blather on how little they think of others? Are we ready to stop being enthralled by the mean girls and boys, who grew up into calculating men and women, and start consciously choosing based on substance rather than fear?

Today seems like the perfect day to change the basic standards, and mostly it only requires asking a different kind of question of ourselves a lot, until that becomes a habit.

How can I be of service to myself and my fellow Americans? Don't leave out any citizens and try not to lean toward one group more than another. Be willing to give a little more than you intended and still feel good about where you land.

Look for the balance, and somewhere in there will lay our new path that will set a much more conscious, sane and healthy example for all of our children to follow. That's the America we can create together.

Martha's column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc., newspaper syndicate. Her latest book is the memoir, "A Place to Call Home." Free eBook at www.MarthaRandolphCarr.com. E-mail Martha at: Martha@caglecartoons.com.