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FELDER: Rational thought hard to come by in drive-through line

Ben Felder, News Editor

On the off chance you’re a smoker who doesn’t know the health risks of your habit, the government is about to make sure the dangers of smoking are made perfectly clear, in graphic detail, each time you buy a pack of cigarettes.  It’s an attempt to address the problem of smoking, which kills an estimated 450,000 Americans each year, but new regulations for cigarette packs are based on the assumption that human beings are rational creatures.  I’m not sure we are.

Last week, the Food and Drug Administration announced cigarette packaging and advertisements will now have to include graphic warning labels that include pictures of cancerous lungs, dead smoking victims and other images designed to discourage people from purchasing cigarettes.  The new regulations will go into effect in 2012 and is the first major change to cigarette packing in more than 25 years.  Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the new regulations will make the realities of smoking even more real for consumers.

“We want to make sure every person who picks up a pack of cigarettes knows exactly what the risk is they are taking,” Sebelius said.

I’m not a smoker but I wonder how effective these new regulations will be.  The assumption is made that when smokers are presented the cold hard facts of what a life of smoking can lead to they will inevitably choose to resist their urge.  But besides the fact, most smokers are already well aware of the risks, assuming consumers will choose rational thought over a craving may be too idealistic.

Some believe the regulations will have a reverse effect on the youth they are trying to keep from picking up the habit.  The continued push by government and authority figures to restrict a certain action can lead some teenagers to intentionally seek that action out.

I try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and eat foods which are good for me but at times it can be a losing battle.  There are times in a moment of weakness, and hunger, when I make a trip through the drive-through and grab a burger and some fries.  I know it’s not good for me but  sometimes a personal craving trumps rational thought.  It’s possible that if a hamburger wrapper had an image of a clogged artery on it I might abstain but I’m not sure I would.

I don’t disagree with the decision to place graphic warnings on cigarette packages, I just think it’s an exercise in fighting the battle too late.  How many people do we expect to pick up a pack of cigarettes, only to turn them back in once they get a glimpse of the cancerous lung on the package?  It just seems to me that when someone is in line at the convenience store or the drive-through, the battle might already be lost.

FELDER: Losing the art of story telling

Ben Felder, News Editor

Recently my family began planning a birthday party for my great-grandfather to be held next June.  Eight months might seem a little too soon, but with him turning 100-years-old it’s a milestone that requires more planning than your typical birthday celebration.

Hitting triple digits in age is something to celebrate but more than just a significant mark in age, it’s a recognition of a lifetime of memories and experiences.  I have often thought that no generation in the history of the world has seen as much change as those of my great-grandparents.  Born in 1911, my great-grandfather was raised on the plains of Kansas where a horse-and-buggy was a regular form of transportation and automobiles were a luxury of the big city.  Fast forward to current times and electricity is an assumed part of everyday life, telephones fit in pockets and even the remotest of locations are now equipped with cable TV and WiFi access.

I have asked my great-grandfather about his childhood and heard stories such as his wife working in a one-room school house and their migration to California during the Great Depression, but I probably haven’t asked enough questions or heard enough stories.

We are a society that has, in a way, perfected the art of communication.  We can send text messages, e-mails, video messages and blog postings in an instant.  Getting details from the other side of the world in more than five minutes is considered a delayed response and nearly everyone on the planet can have a conversation with each other with the right type of technology.

However, while our ability to communicate has grown I wonder if our substance of communication has suffered.  You could make a case that in today’s society there are far fewer meaningful conversations than there once were, and the biggest loss I see is in the decrease of stories passed down from generation to generation.

Michael McQueen is an Australian demographic researcher and the author of the book “Memento: My Life in Stories.”  McQueen argues that the evolution of communication has meant the loss of personal storytelling.

“I see increasing evidence that this current generation of young people may be the first in our history not to receive the stories of their forebears,” McQueen said in a recent article.  “Whether it’s because older generations mistakenly assume young people don’t want to hear their stories or because communication between busy parents and their adult children tends to consist mainly of phone calls, e-mails and text messages, this failure to pass down stories could be the start of a worrisome trend.”

Over the past few weeks I have had the fortune to interview several military veterans in the Piedmont and Okarche community for an upcoming Veterans Day feature in the newspaper.  One interview in particular was with a World War II veteran and the stories this 94-year-old woman told belong in a book, if not a museum.  This woman’s daughter put me in touch with her mother because she recognized the importance of preserving her mother’s stories but I fear for the millions of other elders who have stories to share but no one to listen.

Our society is very forward looking and I confess I fall into that trap.  It’s easy to look ahead and plan for the future, especially when you are relatively young and feel like you have your whole life ahead of you.  But when I look at someone like my great-grandfather, I quickly think that someday I may be fortunate enough to live that long, and if I reach that age, will I have had an opportunity to tell my own stories?  Even more, will I have lived my life in a way that learned from the lessons he learned from his own experiences.

“If future generations are to live better, achieve more and climb higher than their forebears,” McQueen says, “passing down cumulative wisdom from generations past is paramount.”

McQueen goes on to say that while older generations were raised in vastly different times, it’s equally true that the principles, values and experiences that guided and shaped their lives are as relevant and applicable today as they were in centuries past.

world my great-grandfather grew up in seems like a different planet to me but his fight through tough economic times, raising a family in a changing world and working hard to create a better life for his children still seem like relevant themes today.  Life is too hard to do it on our own and the stories of generations past can often be an aide and inspiration in trying times.

We are a society that has in many ways mastered the art of communication, but the art of telling our stories is a form of communication I fear we are quickly losing our handle on, and if lost, won’t be easily retrieved.

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