It isn't what we say, it's what we pay

I have a friend who has lived young his entire, 40-year-old life. But suddenly, in the two years since he passed that milestone - four decades aboveground - he has started notic-ing some troubling signs.

He's losing a little hair. Not enough for a comb-over yet, but still.

He's also getting a little paunch. He's never been into exercise, but it has never mattered before. Now is another matter, and fear is circling around behind his eyes.

His girlfriend is in her 20s, like all his previous girlfriends, but lately this cat, who has never married, has been talking about the current younger woman being the last one.

"I don't know what to do," my Peter Pan-ish friend said.

I feel his pain from quite a bit farther down the road.

We live in a youth-oriented culture.

We give lip service to respecting the elderly in the same way that we claim to respect the environment. But plastic surgeons make a good living here in the same way that oil companies make huge profits.

When I was in Thailand last year, I noticed two things immediately.

One: Young people on the street looked at me as if I were almost their age instead of 30 years older. The smiles seemed genuine - and since I never spent any time in the infamous "party" zones, the folks smiling at me were regular people generally, and not professionals.

Secondly, my Thai friend who took me on the trip to her country told her family I had helped some of her new-to-America Thai employees with their English, and as soon as people heard that, they couldn't stop being super-nice to me.

I asked why.

"We respect teachers in our culture," she said.

Another thing Americans claim to do, but don't really.

Teachers are in general well paid in Asia and other parts of the Old World.

I have a friend who went to Turkey 12 years ago to teach English. He stayed, married a Turkish woman and became a professor.

He always talks about the way in which his students respect him and the other faculty.

In America, we show what we truly value not by what we say but by what we pay.

Thuggish professional football players get huge bucks. Business executives who do nothing but make a profit are treated like rock stars. The aforementioned plastic surgeons live in big houses, vacation in Hawaii and Sun Valley, and never want for anything material. All because they can make grannies look not quite like grannies.

We pay teachers about what we pay nurses - in other words, slightly more than we pay folks to take care of our "beloved" elders in nursing homes.

If you look at the pay scale for teachers and nurses, at least in the beginning stages of their careers, you have to think that in a cultural sense we must not value them much more than we cherish fast-food workers and baristas.

I am not implying any condemnation of service folk here; I've done the work, and some health care at the nursing-assistant level. I am talking about America as a culture, a place where ministers who preach Jesus' gospel of "Blessed are the Poor" drive golden luxury vehicles.

Our values are skewed when we value glorified shopkeepers more than nurses, and steroid-addled athletes more than teachers.

I am not innocent in all of this.

I was a torment to the goodly Franciscan friars who taught me in high school. They could have put my name on a plaque in the detention room where miscreants were sent at the end of each school day.

And for 30 years, only ending about five years ago, you couldn't have budged me from in front of the television set on a Sunday afternoon.

First it was the Cleveland Browns, then the Seahawks, then the Denver Broncos when I moved to Idaho.

It dawned on me only when I moved to Hawaii, which thankfully has no professional football team, that I couldn't remember 10 of the thousands of plays I'd watched on television.

I took up golf and ocean swimming and can remember those Sundays as clear as a bell.

Why are we the most obese country in the developed world, and getting fatter?

Because we venerate greed in the shape of money, material things and power. And because many, many of us would prefer to watch other people exercise instead of doing something for ourselves.

Oh yeah, and we average seven hours a day of tele-vision or computer time.

I have become a believer as I get older (and older) that we as a people emphasize the wrong things, and that we consistently put the social cart before the social horse.

I have no answers for any of this other than being nicer to any older folks within your personal orbit and trying, if the opportunity ever arises, to make sure teachers and nurses get paid as much as football players or plastic surgeons.

You're probably thinking, "What is Wilken smoking?" But hey, as the alleged patriots stealing our liberties one Homeland Security Act at a time always say when criticized, "That's what makes this country great. Everybody's entitled to their opinion."

This just happens to be one of my many.

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