According to Me: Unless someone like you…

I’ve made a 4.0 one time in my life. It came in graduate school at the age of 32 while I was juggling the responsibilities of having two small children, two jobs, a wife and several other assorted grown-up things.

I was unbelievably excited to have netted a 4.0. Then, I was unbelievably bummed about it. I was bummed because it occurred to me that at the toughest academic level and amid the most demanding personal circumstances I had ever faced, I excelled more than I ever had before. That meant that I probably had the ability to have accomplished such a feat much earlier.

I haven’t always tried live life by the “anything that’s worth doing is worth doing well” mantra, and my undergraduate GPA certainly shows that. Still, it never should have taken that long for me to decide to try.

What scares me is that such a great percentage of the ensuing generations may never seek to abide by that maximum effort paradigm.

My wife teaches seventh grade science. I’ve seen her tests. I know her teaching style. And I know that she basically serves up as much help as she possibly can to her students without doing the work for them. Yet, so few of them seem to actually exhibit accountability.

I spend a large portion of my professional life covering high school athletics. The various teams that I cover are rife with underperforming athletes whose effort levels leave a lot to be desired.

Why does any of this matter? It matters because those generations will soon be occupying the entry-level jobs and then the management positions and then the governmental offices. The cycle of our society will soon fall on the uninterested student and the unmotivated athlete.

That’s a scary prospect given the tenuous day-to-day performance by much of my generation.

I have a friend who stopped at a local convenient this week only to have his purchase refused by the cashier because she did not want to count out change. He asked if it was because she didn’t have change. It was not. She didn’t have the desire to do the job for which she was being paid to do.

And while that is a bit of an extreme example of this hyper laissez faire approach to the world, it certainly is not the only piece of evidence that comes to mind.

We can see this pervasive demotivation take hold in the current generation with the least of things – like shopping carts left haphazardly in parking places even when the corral is only a few feet away – or in much greater things, such as city leaders both elected and appointed who opt to do only the minimum and contribute virtually nothing in the way of driving their community forward.

I’m far from an environmentalist, but one of my favorite books to read to my son is Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

That doesn’t mean you have to solve the world’s hunger problem, diffuse Darfur or cure cancer in order to make a difference. It means you have to care.

One person can move our society forward just by caring enough to do their very best in their little corner of the world. Care enough to do a good job at work. Care enough to be a good parent. Care enough to be a good neighbor. Care enough to be a responsible voter. Care enough to do some little thing to improve the day of another person. Care.

Society’s biggest problems all started with the littlest of things. And that’s where our focus should be on a daily basis, on the little things that we can control. If we change enough of those variables, the big stuff will start to work out.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Jeremy D. Smith is managing partner of The West Alabama Watchman. He has covered news and sports in Demopolis since 2008. His column, According to Me, appears weekly on