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What happened to us? We're now a land of low expectations

We didn't start out with low expectations. As a matter of fact, our forefathers had so many hopes and dreams that they didn't have room for them all in their prairie schooners as they trekked from Missouri to New Mexico. Somewhere along the way, and over the years, we've come to expect much less from ourselves, our leaders and our country.

Our wagons have gotten stuck in the ruts of ennui and we have learned to live with mendacity, malfeasance and mediocrity. We have 'readjusted' our sights, dumbed down our requirements for our children and our elected officials and made excuses for failing grades, high crime and general unaccountability. This, I'm sad to say, is most apparent in many of America's flagship cities like Albuquerque where we're lagging behind in the major indices of employment, GDP, industrial and commercial competitiveness, education, security, etc.

The ailments are obvious, so much so that it's getting a little boring to keep repeating them, but if we don't keep our collective eye on the ball (the truth about our society), we're never going to solve our problems. Albuquerque is full of talented, decent, law-abiding people - people with imagination and drive, with optimism and can do attitudes. Many are generous, kind and compassionate, but they're suffering right along with everybody else. At some point, we've become the living embodiment of the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule).

Those hearty souls are the 20%, working hard to help the other 80% cope with escalating crime and deteriorating family situations, from addiction to alcohol, hard drugs and marijuana. We've come to expect that our cars in our own driveways will be stolen, that dead bodies will show up behind big box stores or in our residential neighborhoods with horrifying regularity. We don't even raise an eyebrow when 40 lb. bags of marijuana show up at a middle school, and when the chances of going free from a DUI arrest are better than those of being convicted (55% to 45%), something's wrong - very wrong.

Our lowered expectations and disenchantment with our society is often expressed by our poor participation in the election process. The concept of universal suffrage (the right to vote) is one of the most precious pillars of our democracy and something absent in many countries around the world, yet we either take it for granted, are resigned to our fates or are too lazy to get off our duffs and pull a lever on a voting machine.

The right to speak our piece is being challenged these days by political correctness and by peer pressure and by individuals and groups that see their rights as more important than ours. Every American deserves to live in a safe, clean and functioning environment, and we in New Mexico are no different from anyone else. Our difference is that we don't fight back hard enough against those things that threaten our way of life. We buckle under and become apologists for our situation. We call drug abuse, alcohol abuse, child and spousal abuse 'social diseases.' By removing personal responsibility from people, we turn them into victims instead of guaranteeing them an active role in their own lives.

America is a patchwork quilt of interconnected communities, many with the same problems and opportunities. Unfortunately, these communities don't always communicate with each other. If we truly wish to raise our expectations and find common solutions to our problems then we had better get busy talking to one another.

Stephan Helgesen is a retired U.S. diplomat and now political analyst and author. He has written eight books and over 750 articles on politics, economics and social trends. He can be reached at:

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