I retired from college in 1992. After spending two years with my eldest son in Nashik, my wife and I left for America in July 1994. Our second son is a computer engineer in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It took us 20 hours to cover a distance of 15,000 km, from Bombay to Minneapolis. Our son was at the airport to receive us.
Minneapolis is called the icebox of America. In summer, the maximum temperature touches 90 deg. F, and in winter it dips to 30 deg. F. It is famous for its 10,000 lakes. Minneapolis is an important industrial, educational and cultural centre in the region. The University of Minnesota is located on the banks of the Mississippi river in southeast Minneapolis. Current estimates place its population at 3,36,000.
Plymouth, where our son lives, is a neat and clean area. Most of our neighbours were Americans. They were friendly and warm hearted. When our granddaughter was born, they came to congratulate us and brought us gifts too. The Americans are quite informal. Our close neighbours were Larry Wilson and his wife Jane, Martin L. Dehen and Carrie, Lynn Sorensen and Jill. The Wilsons came to bid us an affectionate goodbye when we left for India in March, after a very pleasant stay in the States.
America has been called a land of opportunities. It is three times bigger than India, but has a population less than a third of India. It is therefore a land of plenty. It is perhaps the cheapest country in the world, if the prices of food items, groceries and electronic goods are compared. No wonder that people from all over the world are trying to migrate to the United States.
The great scientist, Einstein, migrated to America in 1933. He remarked, ?I always felt very happy in America because I think it is a wonderful country to live in.? He was ?gratified to see so much money was made available for scientific research here.?
Everyone feels assured of his worth as an individual, no matter what level of wealth or poverty. Nobody bows down to another person or class. Generally speaking, Americans are kinder to one another and there is unity in their philosophies. ?We? is much more stressed than ?I?.
Americans have a tremendous optimism that enables them to overcome great odds. They are kind and friendly. If they are lacking one thing, it is self-confidence. But they are naturally optimistic and have no envy of others.
Three great men who vitally affected the thought process of Americans were Emerson, Thoreau and Orison Swett Marden. The teachings of these three philosophers combined to create that particular genius of the American who is not defeated by obstacles and overcomes all difficulties with amazing efficiency.
The fundamental doctrine of Emerson is that the human personality can be touched with divine power and thus greatness can be released from it. Thoreau pointed out that the secret of achievement was to hold a picture of a successful outcome in mind. Dr. Marden'sphilosophy is that God meant man to be a success, not a failure, and that he should rise, step by step, through his own efforts to God-like heights.
In a world afflicted by ethnic and racial fanaticism, America continues to be an example of how a highly differentiated society can hold itself together.
It is estimated that a million Americans live below the poverty line. A family of four is considered poor if it has an annual income of $15,000. The minimum wage is $4.24 an hour.
Work hard and get ahead. That has been the core of the American dream for more than 200 years. The norm is 40 hours a week. But some put in a hundred hours a week in fast track professions like accountancy and consultancy.
Never mind family. Never mind community. What many Americans do is work, and increasingly those who are able, do it overtime. Economic culture and consumerism have made the US one of the hardest-working nations on earth. A survey has found that many people are putting in 50 to 70 hours a week. One worker at the Ford plant said, ?You have needs and you can'tmeet them with one job. Some days I am so tired, all I can do is stare.? Everyone is overworked and overstressed. A lady said, ?My husband never rests. He hasn'tseen our kids with their eyes open on a weekday for ages. The stress is killing us.?
There are imperfections too. For example, the US is considerably more materialistic. Dr. Marden in his book, Getting On says: ?One of the most unfortunate phases of American civilization is the accumulation of colossal fortunes and this greed and passion for money has developed a fatal national restlessness and discontent.
?Was man made in his Creator'simage to be turned into a mere money-making machine? The man who gives himself up to money-getting solely loses the faculty for the enjoyment of the higher things of life. Money cannot satisfy the yearnings of a heart for the beautiful, the passion for truth, and the hunger for wisdom. The soul, the highest thing in man, will starve in the midst of all the money and all the material possessions of the world. There is really very little connection between the accumulation of money and real success. Some of the most pitiful failures in the USA are millionaires.?
The fast pace of life in America causes stress and strain. It produces physical fatigue and emotional disquiet. Every night in the US, more than 10 million sleeping tables are required to put the Americans to sleep. Statistics show that the use of sleeping tablets has risen 1,000 per cent in recent years. More than 70 per cent patients suffer from ?emotional disorders.?
A clinic made a study of a large number of ulcer cases and reports that nearly half were made ill, not as a result of physical troubles, but because of unhealthy mental stress, caused by too much worry or tension. This unhappy situation has become so serious that many doctors today refer their patients to psychiatrists, who have a flourishing practice.
Consumerism has become the bane of American society. Research confirms it. Americans love to shop. American women?and to a lesser extent men?shop not just because they need something, but as a therapy for boredom. A lot of people really do shopping as a leisure activity. ?I am risking everything, my children, my marriage, just for goods I don'teven want,? said a woman, who psychologists say, suffers from ?compulsive spending disorder?. Obsessive spending can lead to huge debts, family breakup and even prison. The roots of this disorder lie in the combination of an increasingly powerful consumer culture and easy credit. A study has shown that people with low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence suffer from this malady.
The USA has the dubious distinction of being the most violent country in the world. Nearly everyone thinks crime is among the nation'smost serious problems. But Americans continue to disagree sharply about how best to fight crime. One side thinks the answer is punishment. Society'saim should be to arrest and convict as many criminals as possible. If the bad guys are behind bars, they say crime will surely diminish. The other side thinks the answer is prevention. The USA already locks up a greater portion of its people than any other country; and prison sentences are increasingly severe, yet violent crimes continue unabated.
More than 70 per cent of Americans think that the press is getting in the way of solving the country'sproblems. Negative news makes more interesting copy. The media portrays only the garbage?murder and mayhem. During our entire stay of eight months, I can recall just two stories of positive reporting by newspapers that would inspire others to perform what Tennyson calls ?some work of noble note.? One was about an issueless couple donating their house for a public library. The other was about a millionaire becoming a nun at the ripe age of 61 to dedicate her life to God.
Early morning when I would pick up the newspaper, the headlines would proclaim: ?14-year-old schoolboy shoots dead his mother.? Reason: She was too dominating. And then half-a-page would be devoted to gory details as to how the murder was planned and executed. Those days, the trial of O.J. Simpson, a former footballer, suspected of having murdered his wife and her boyfriend, had captured the imagination of the entire nation. Comparisons were being drawn between O.J. and the great Shakespearean hero Othello, who murdered his wife, suspecting her of infidelity. The trial was termed as the ?Trial of the Century?. What a glorification of crime!
Another headline said, ?16-year-old lad beats to death his grandma, 78.? Reason: She criticised the rap music he was playing on the radio. Yet another headline reports, ?Son, 15, kills parents as they watched television.? Reason: He wanted to live the story of the movie?Natural Born Killers.
The average American family is glued to the tube a little more than seven hours per day. Most of the TV programmes are puerile. An expert says, ?TV poses a terrible threat to the minds of our young people. It brings violence into our family rooms.? A leading researcher on violence on TV says, ?Mankind may have had more bloodthirsty eras, but none as filled with images of violence as the present.?
The less said about the movies the better. In his State of the Union address, President Clinton called on the entertainment industry ?to understand the damage that comes from the incessant, repetitive, mindless violence that permeates our media.?
The Census Bureau analysis shows that nationwide, seven million families are headed by single parents?one in four of all families with children. Births to unwed mothers have jumped to 70 per cent since 1982, with 27 per cent of children under 18 living with a single parent who had never married. About 55 per cent American children spend some part of their lives in a single parent house, almost always headed by the mother. A well-known psychologist says, ?I think you are putting kids at risk without a regular consistent relationship with a father.?
Americans are fond of statistics. Some of the nationally recorded statistics shows: Every 26 seconds a child runs away from home. Every minute a teenager has a baby. Every nine minutes, a child is arrested for a drug or alcohol abuse related offence. Every three hours gun violence takes a child'slife. David Walsh says, ?Americans are more concerned with making money than raising morally and healthy children.?
The majority of American children do not have their mom or dad waiting for them, after their school. Even most infants aged six months and under, don'tsee their moms most of the day. Sixty per cent of the mothers work.
Divorce rates in the US have reached a level of 60 per cent. Thousands of married couples choose divorce as a swift and immediate solution to their problems of marital unhappiness. A leading psychiatrist says, ?If children rule, there would be no divorce.? He has cited the long-term ill-effects of divorce on children as the rise in suicides among adolescents, drug abuse, teenage pregnancy, alcoholism and even murders.
The Americans agree that something is fundamentally wrong with the nation'svalues and common life?even if they cannot agree on a solution. They tend to blame society for most of their ills. Gandhiji traced all the ills of society to the ills in a family. He would say, ?As is the family, so is the society.?
If I were asked to give a single reason for all the ills facing the American society, I would mention the breakup of the family, and the consequent erosion of spiritual, moral and social values. How can children brought up in battered and broken homes become responsible citizens? Orison Swett Marden believed that heredity and environment were important in the development of a child.
We have the shining example of President Lincoln. He was born in a poor family. His mother, though illiterate, was a pious lady. She encouraged Lincoln to read good books including the life of George Washington. Lincoln said of his mother, ?All that I am, all that I ever hope to be, I owe to my mother.? What a tribute! How many Americans can say this of their mothers? How many mothers in America today place in the hands of their children biographies of great men or the inspiring works of Marden? They read trash, they see trash, and they think trash. And Emerson says, ?A man is what he thinks all day long.?
One of the saddest things in American society is that young people have no role models. They have no heroes to follow.
In spite of all the riches and wealth, the quality of life in America is going down. During my travels I had an opportunity to interact with people of my age. They seemed to be apprehensive about the future of the country and nostalgic about ?old values?.
The problem facing America is not peculiar. Every major industrial nation faces similar problems. About 80 years ago, Gandhji had prophesied, ?Industrialisation is going to be a curse for mankind.?