I listen to talk radio all the time.
I listen in the car, while I’m working, as white noise at home. Yet I am not so naive that I don’t realize a lot of what the talk show hosts do is “entertainment” to get things stirred up, to pepper the conversation, and add to their cadre of callers. Years ago I remember Rush Limbaugh saying, “Hey, do you really think I believe everything I say here? First and foremost I’m on radio to entertain.” And Rush was right. But nevertheless, people still like to malign those talk masters who ruffle them and believe to the very syllable they utter, those with whom they align.
Recently, I was listening to a popular talk show on a Norwich station. A female caller was bemoaning the fact that “America’s in terrible shape. We’ve never been this bad. We’re really going downhill.” She said it over and over. A few callers who succeeded her echoed her sentiments until it made you think you didn’t have to make dinner that night because none of us would be here...we’d all be bombed, nuked, or do ourselves in since everything was hopeless.
Finally a man called breaking the pattern and said, “You know, it’s easy to buy into all this, but things are really not that bad in America today. Yes, we have division in the government, we have protests, but there are good things too. The economy’s up, the stock market’s flourishing, unemployment is at an all time low. I think America may just be on an upswing. Give it time, give it a chance.”
It gave me pause. Another thing that recently gave me pause was an opportunity a couple of weeks ago to meet a representative of the future of this country named Leila Cox. Cox is a true powerhouse — a diminutive member of Westerly High’s senior class with a resume bigger than she is. Just based on what I remember, Leila is not only a four year National Honor Society appointee, but president of same, president of the Student Council, a member of the Rhode Island Honor Society, captain of both the indoor and outdoor track teams, a tireless volunteer at Summer Pops, part of the Calabrese Club soup kitchen, ad infinitum.
If you think Leila is a goody two-shoes, think again. That is patently not the case. The daughter of David and Tasha Cox, who are not only ardent supporters of their children, but seem to genuinely like them, Leila is shaping her world the way she would like to see it. She admits that when the family moved from New Jersey for her father’s job (David is assistant men’s basketball coach at URI), she wasn’t too crazy about her new state. But she jumped into the water and “just starting joining clubs at school.” That led to quickly getting to know people, to making friends, and to making her mark at the high school. It may have been executed on a teenage level, yet it was a solid attempt at making an effort to change things rather than bemoaning the status quo, thinking it would always remain thus.
Leila Cox may be young and idealistic in a world that’s jaded by negative experience, yet she serves as a good example of where we’re headed. It’s way too easy to look at young people in ripped jeans with green and purple hair and a device stuck to their heads and think, “What’s wrong with kids today? It wasn’t that way when I was young. We were different.” Right! Sure we were. We wore loafers with pennies in them, poodle skirts, had cigarette packs in rolled up T-shirt sleeves, and sported big hairdos teased and sprayed so nothing would move. Girls wore white lipstick while boys had DA (if you don’t know what DA stood for, ask someone who grew up in the ’50s) haircuts held in place with globs of pomade like Brylcreem.
So if you think we’re going to hell as a country, and our young people today are ignorant, self-involved little twits, perhaps a trip to Westerly or Stonington or Wheeler high school might disabuse you of the notion that “they’re all alike.” You might just meet a Leila Cox.
We’re going to be alright.
Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 16 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She has written three books: one about the towns and villages in our area, one about growing up in the ’50s, and one that recounts untold veterans’ stories from WWII to the present. She can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 401- 539-7762.