I struggled with whether or not to write this article. It is a full departure from the intent of my blog to focus entirely on the restaurant industry and the people who dedicate their lives to food. I am not looking for agreement or even debate on what follows and am not writing this as a political statement (although some may see it that way). This is just a reflection of my observations over the past two decades. I just wonder how we got to where we are and what is in store for our future.
It only took one generation, or maybe even less for things to change. It was a blink of the eye and suddenly everything looks and feels dramatically different. Maybe it was always different and we just didn’t notice, or maybe we were able to cover it up with smoke and mirrors, but the fact is – we (everyone) are different. Different is sometimes a good thing. Different in business has opened up great new opportunities, different in terms of people has offered us a chance to open our eyes and learn from each other, but sometimes different is not so great when we give up things that are important and core to who we are. I’m just wondering what happened?
Of course, I realize that the questions that I pose do not apply to everyone. Of course, I know that there are many people who still live and thrive within the framework of the attributes of great character. Of course, I understand that the changes that I list are not universal. But, this is what we see 24/7, this is what the world sees, this is what is in the news, this is what our leadership exudes and has for some time. I’m just wondering what happened?
 What happened to HONESTY?
It was Thomas Jefferson who once said:
“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”
So why has it suddenly become acceptable for a segment of our population and particularly with those who are in leadership roles to shun the concept of honesty and give in to the trappings of lies. We all lie at some time, and probably feel that twinge of regret even for the smallest of “white lies” – finding it challenging to look at ourselves in the mirror afterward. So, how has it become almost acceptable for those in powerful positions to lie without remorse? Just wondering.
 What happened to CARING?
One of the foundations of our country and the people who live within our borders has been our caring nature. We care about others who are in need, who are suffering, who need help, who look to us and our peers for assistance when their hope is diminished. Floods, earthquakes, hurricanes and tornados, victims of war, those with physical ailments, those displaced by mother nature, those suffering from disease, those without a roof over their heads or enough food to eat, could always look to us and our caring nature for help. We have given willingly for generations – this is one of the most admirable traits of Americans, it is (was) how the rest of the world viewed our nation. Most of us still have this caring soul that sets us apart, but why is it suddenly no longer at the core of who we are, or at least why is it no longer the perception that others have of us? Just wondering.
 What happened to GRACE?
Understanding, forgiveness, and acceptance are character traits that through time have been part of what makes people special. When graceful people are wrong they admit it and seek acceptance or forgiveness. When graceful people win they choose not to admonish those who lost and when graceful people lose they nod their acceptance of those who won. I still know many people who are perfect examples of grace, but wonder why this is no longer seen as the norm and why we do not throw praise and attention at those who are graceful by nature. Just wondering.
 What happened to RESPECT?
I could write pages on this topic alone. All whom I call cherished friends are first and foremost respectful individuals. They do exist! So why is it that every time we pick up a newspaper, turn on the TV, or open a social media account – we are inundated with disrespectful content, ideas, and expressions? Why are we suddenly lacking in respect for anyone and everyone who is different? This has become a disease that is creeping through our society and attacking our very core. It is apparent in almost every exchange, every lunchroom conversation, and every minute of our unrelenting news cycles. Try to watch even the simplest exchange between people of different beliefs: an interview on TV, a debate among colleagues, and simple question and answer session and you will find that respect is off the table. Interviewers interrupt those responding to a question, dialogue turns into hateful exchanges and opinionated fiery attacks, and more often than not there is little to no listening involved. Respect is no longer a requirement, it is an option rarely taken. Just wondering.
 What happened to CHIVALRY?
OK, I’m old fashioned, maybe even a dinosaur, but I still believe in chivalry. I’m not referring to the honor of the knights of old, but rather those caring and respectful actions that can be (were) a part of human nature. Holding a door for the person behind you, sharing an umbrella with a friend or stranger, saying good morning to a stranger you pass on the street, referring to another person with respect, gentlemen removing their hats when in a public space like a restaurant, church, library, or meeting. A nod of appreciation or verbal thanks to a member of the military or a public servant such as a fireman, police officer, etc. These are all chivalrous acts that separate civilized people from those who fail to see the value in being as such.
 What happened to the THIRST FOR KNOWLEDGE?
The enjoyment of learning through experiences, formal or informal education, reading a book, or listening to others talk about their personal history are what sets the stage for a society to grow and mature. Of course, there are many who still thrive on this interplay and consume and contribute as much as they can, but is the thirst for knowledge as pervasive as it once was? Ask the person next to you what book they are currently reading? In some cases it might be best to ask – when was the last time you read a book? I am not being condescending, but rather asking why is it that this thirst is no longer a priority? We can blame technology and television, but aren’t these simply things that are filling the void that exist? Just wondering.
 What happened to HUMAN INTERACTION?
One of the greatest experiences in life is the interplay with others; the dialogue that takes place between friends, acquaintances, family, adversaries, and strangers. It seems like overnight this interplay has been replaced by an introverted escapism (I find myself drawn to this at times as well). We send an email to the office 50 feet away, text a friend rather than call, plug in our ear buds rather than listen to the world around us, watch a video rather than make an event out of going to the theater, and spend hours on end playing video games with a person a thousand miles away whom we will never meet. It has happened and there is likely no turning back. How can we bring back the joy of human interaction? Just wondering.
 What happened to the FAMILY TABLE?
Those who know me understand that this is one of my pet topics. There was a time when the most sacred time of the day was dinner. The family came together to enjoy the cooking skills and traditions of the designated cook, conversation flowed about the day past and the days to come, and stories of family history were passed on for the next generation. It seems that this is a thing of the past and as a result we have drifted from an understanding of what our joys, trials, and tribulations might be. Why did we allow this to take place? Just wondering.
 What happened to KINDNESS?
As a rather short kid growing up there was occasional ribbing about my vertical challenge, and I suppose bullying, to some degree always took place. Some might even say we had more spine back then, but it appears that this bullying has risen to new heights with the introduction of social media. A vehicle is now available that allows people to ridicule others, make false claims, and belittle their difference in ways that were incomprehensible when I was young. The results are devastating, especially during those challenging years of adolescence. What happened to kindness and how will this translate to how bullies become adults and leaders of companies, organizations, and countries? Just wondering.
 What happened to COMPASSION?
“Don’t take this personal – it’s only business.” What a sham that statement is. In a day of incredible growth and excessive profit, far too many companies have chosen to become desensitized to the personal ramifications of this statement. Progress and change is always inevitable, but change without weighing the human cost is never positive in the long run. Change must be accompanied by compassion. When the evolution of business displaces others because of skill set – then a compassionate company or industry invests in re-training opportunities for those who are impacted. When a paradigm shift occurs that displaces entire industries, then shouldn’t a nation invest in aggressive retraining programs and adjustments to educational models that give those impacted a chance to grow with this change? Just wondering.
 What happened to TRUST?
There is an old saying that trust must be earned every day. There were, however, certain individuals and positions that we always trusted as if they were family members constantly looking to support you. Today, trust is not even part of our dialogue. We don’t trust the police, politicians, doctors, lawyers, teachers, insurance companies, or banks. We look at others with great trepidation and are constantly looking for ways to not trust them. Where does this leave us as a society? Who do we trust? Just wondering.
 What happened to COMPROMISE?
I can’t think of many examples in history where “My way or the highway” actually worked. Throughout time, it has been diplomatic dialogue and eventual compromise where everyone wins some and everyone loses some that resulted in the best “deals”. Today we take partisan politics into everything that we do. “I am right and you are wrong” doesn’t leave much wiggle room for decision-making. What happened to give and take? Just wondering.
 What happened to PROFESSIONALISM?
Webster’s defines professionalism as:
“The skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well.”
Depending on the profession or the situation this involves how we look, act, treat each other, how dependable we are with being on time and following up with requests, and how we approach our jobs and position in life in a polite and dignified manner. What happened? Just wondering.
 What happened to FAIRNESS?
We are all familiar with the phrase: “Life isn’t fair.” Well life is not an entity, but the people who have life are. Children may say: “That’s not fair.” We all know that what they really mean is why didn’t something go my way. The real key to fairness is providing equal opportunity, offering the tools to get there, and allowing those who work hard and take advantage of the opportunities before them to reap the same benefits. If an individual chooses not to work hard or utilize those tools effectively then the chips fall as they may. Is there an equal playing field today? Just wondering.
 What happened to THOUGHTS OF EQUALITY?
I grew up in the fifties and sixties when inequality was very apparent (although I was too young in the fifties to understand it). We have come a long way – or have we? Just wondering.
 What happened to HOPE?
Our last president was elected under the promise of hope. To some, this was realized while others felt misled. Regardless of your outlook, it is hope that brings a country together and instills pride, passion, and excitement for the future. FDR gave the country hope, JFK gave the country hope, Ronald Reagan gave the country hope, and so did Obama. Not everyone was onboard with the focus and the methods used, but it was hope that gave people comfort and a feeling of a great future. This is imperative and something that has always separated America from many countries where hope is in serious short supply. Can we bring back hope and the actions through professional debate and compromise that make America the country that the world looks up to? Just wondering.
That’s my two cents – lots of questions, not many answers.
Chrissy Rode said:
I needed to read exactly this today. Thank you, Chef!
Well done , well said Chef . Thanks
This was a big read, so it goes without saying, it was a big effort on your part Paul. I also can say it was worth the effort, beautifully written and well said! Thanks Much
Paul Carrier said:
Excellent job and perspective Chef!!! Thank you for your honest words.
James & Pamela Wirth said:
All the things you listed that seem to be hiding are still there like buried treasure it make take some digging to find it. We have gotten so used to electronics that we need to ask ourselves what happened when I was behind the computer screen or engulfed in a game. I forgot to be human. Like a diamond in the rough we need to have stuff chipped away to find where the sparkle is. Keep faith, these things are still here because we are still here. Bless you for your questions…you’re breathing and thinking.
paul gallo said:
I have been wondering much the same, too much of the i want the me me me ,then the we are in this together, true values; the ideal of community is gone working together for a common good, very rare .you are called socialist even thinking that way. you now in this country can get arrested for buying a homeless person a meal. even trying to help in that small way.
it makes me sad we have sank so low.
we have a new president talking about making america great again lol I do not think he has clue
his every act is counter to what is needed. greed is not called one of the 7 deadly sins for nothing. they say you must sometimes hit bottom to recover look out folks here it comes.
I accidentally found your article while searching for something totally unrelated. You are so correct. I was beginning to wonder if myself and a few friends were the only ones to feel this way. Thanks for putting it out there for us all to read!