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Holten: The word of the day

A few days ago, the word was “frugal.” The next day, it was “reciprocal” and the word the day I wrote this column was “ambivalent.”

Now, according to the dictionary, the word ambivalent means to have mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone, as in “She has ambivalent feelings about the relationship.”

For some reason that word stuck in my head, like a song that won’t go away, probably because it’s such an appropriate word for describing America and the world in the new millennium. We are ambivalent.

Take the ’40s for example. “Committed” might be the best word to describe that decade since everyone was focused on getting rid of the world’s biggest kook, Adolf Hitler, plus his buddy Mussolini and their Japanese warmonger friends. Then the boys came back home, thankful to be alive, got married, had more kids than any generation ever has and were determined to live the good life.

The ’50s, except for the Korean War, was the “mirthful” decade when Ike was president and things were good. The ’60s were mostly about a love “revolution,” disco dominated the ’70s and the ’80s was all about “accumulation.”

But when it comes to the ’90s and beyond, including the new millennium, things get a little less distinctive, a little bit murky and I wonder why?

Of course, that’s when kid’s butts started to peek out of the top of their jeans, caps went the way of our values, which is backwards, T-shirts fit more like parachutes than corsets and politicians became little more than high-paid wordsmiths who think nothing of padding their wallets.

“Internet, Facebook, texting, Twitter and sound bite” are words that dominant our lives today and it seems like we have fewer common goals, specifically defined directions or main purposes. Even wars no longer unite us because, although they might have dramatic beginnings, they have no endings.

Or maybe we just have too many goals, too many directions and too many purposes to focus on so that it leaves us looking in too many directions; distracted, disoriented, doubtful and dumb.

We just don’t seem to get anything done or fix anything, at least not in Washington, and you and me — the average citizen — feel like we have less say even though we have more to say and less impact even though we’re quicker to react, which has led to widespread apathy and ambivalence.

So what do we do? Get a clue.

First of all, only 54 percent of us voted in the last presidential election, which in translation means that half of us aren’t watching the person who’s watching the store. When it comes to congressional elections, that number is all over the board depending on who is running in what state and in what year, and that’s scary.

We don’t have a voice because we don’t use our voice and it starts with using your vote.

In addition to all of that, we don’t read articles. We read headlines. We don’t listen to stories, we listen to sound bites. Thus, despite the overabundance of electronic devices and social media, we are less informed and more easily misled than ever before even though this is the information age. Of course, that doesn’t seem to stop us from voicing our opinion.

For as Austin O’Malley, the American physicist born in 1858 once said, “Public opinion is the pennant on a nation’s mast which shows the politician and the editor how to trim the sails.”

Which is good, but not if we’re misunderstanding, misinterpreting, mistaken and misinformed.

So like your teacher said, “Do your homework.”

Holten is the manager of The Drill and a columnist for The Dickinson Press. Email him at