Flustrated America

By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

You hear people say the word “flustrated” sometimes. Is that a word? It should be.

English needs a word that blends “flustered” and “frustrated.” “Flustered” means “confused,” while “frustrated” means you’re angry about something you can’t accomplish or control.

So what if you’re both angry and confused about it? Then you’re flustrated.

Times of great, rapid change can leave a lot of us feeling that way. In recent years, the economy has shifted from a manufacturing economy, to a service economy, to an information economy where many jobs are best performed overseas or by automation. Workers, no longer able to grow their own food or fix their own cars, have been forced to adjust in order to be a small cog in a giant machine. That’s flustrating.

The character of American demographics is changing as well. Since 1950, the population of the United States has doubled, according to the Census Bureau. Eight percent of us then were 65 years and older, compared to today’s 14.1 percent, a number that is rapidly growing. Back then, immigrants were twice as likely to have come from Europe as from this side of the Atlantic, and half of those from this hemisphere came from Canada. Today, the United States has the second highest Spanish-speaking population in the world, after Mexico. That’s not necessarily a bad change, but it is a big one.

Values are changing, too. A woman in 1950 was 27 times more likely to be married than to be divorced. Today, more than half of all women under age 30 who are giving birth aren’t married. Earlier this year, the Supreme Court ruled that couples of the same sex have the right to marry, only a few years removed from some 30 states passing laws making gay marriage illegal. On these important issues, Americans simply don’t see eye to eye, and that can be flustrating for all of us.

While the definition of “marriage” is changing, so is the definition of “community,” which once referred to geographic proximity. Few of us had access to the internet 20 years ago and none of us owned an iPhone in 2006. Today, “friend” is a verb and it’s something you do on Facebook. We can connect with people all over the world but no longer know our neighbors.

These rapid changes can leave us flustered and frustrated. We want some of those old definitions back – the ones we understood – but the consensus has broken down. The American conversation has become one big argument that hardly anybody ever wins. Try as we might, we can’t make the world in our image.

Amidst all this, we don’t even know who to be mad at, or to fear. During the Cold War, Americans could unite against a single enemy that was easy to find and was as scared of us as we were of it, and for many of the same reasons. Today, the enemy can be ISIS in the Middle East or a hacker in China.

But we’ve got to blame somebody we recognize, right? So it’s all the president’s fault, or the Democrats’, or the Republicans’, or the media’s, or the rich’s, or the poor’s. We create conspiracy theories to explain which individuals are really in charge because the reality is harder to accept – that no one is, at least no human being, and that if something really goes wrong, none of us knows how to fix it.

To some degree, this flustration is reflected in the Republican presidential campaign. Donald Trump is a lot of things, but flustrated he is not, though he certainly is flustrating Jeb Bush and some of the other conventional candidates. For many voters, Trump offers an alternative to a system that has both angered and confused them. It’s no coincidence that he has been joined at the top of the latest Iowa poll by Dr. Ben Carson, another nonpolitician, each with 23%, while former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina was third with 10%. In fact, those three candidates who haven’t been part of the political system together are polling higher than the 14 candidates who have been.

How to deal with such a time as this? One option is simple humility. What if I admitted I can’t understand the world, much less decide how it all should work? I might focus on what I can understand and control. I might grant a little mercy to those who see things differently.

I’d definitely be less flustrated, if that’s a word.

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