As the humorist Dave Barry recently described a woman’s reaction toward the coming presidential election, she had “the facial expression of a person who has just opened the door to a port-a-potty on the last day of a midsummer chili festival.” Notwithstanding the aversion most Americans have toward a hyper-divided America, and the abject apathy we feel toward the current two geriatric presidential candidates, many continue to forecast a coming civil war between red and blue as fantasized in the recent release of Alex Garland’s dystopian “Civil War.” The movie may be a hit, but the local cinema is likely the closest we will come to any civil war. The vast majority of Americans, whom our collective media ignores, remain hiding inside their boxes where their weariness creates little more than disgust, let alone the energy to pursue violence. Even MAGA zealots are showing signs of fatigue.

The old guard of our two-party system very much wants to keep us there—in our boxes. More specifically, in our three-dimensional boxes with two-dimensional binary choices. This or that. Him or him. Us versus them. Pick one without thinking too much. Settle for the least-worst choice. Set your brain aside. The brain that would like its human to scream, “Bullshit!”, but has been silenced by intensely partisan institutions that want to preserve themselves rather than solve problems, leaving the few remaining screamers hoarse. The Republican leader, Speaker Mike Johnson, seems to spend more time with his comb than his gavel. Meanwhile, Democrats are busy playing their favorite game they learned from the religious right: “Shame on you!”

Sick and tired? Me too.

Depression is at an all-time high in America across nearly all demographic groups—especially our teens who have had the development of their autonomy severely compromised. Consequences have been avoided to their profound detriment. First, by helicopter parenting and more recently by social media and online gaming. As a result, teens and young adults have not learned to properly manage risk in order to make the decisions that make possible the glorious uplifting autonomy they naturally crave. Their sense of self is a mirage. Worse, they know it. They look in the mirror and see a fraud. Depression and anxiety have become both inevitable and pervasive.

Meanwhile, many adults have also abdicated their agency and the responsibility that goes with it. It’s the same problem: without a sense of autonomy based in a healthy embrace of self-determination, we feel lost. Things happen to us instead of because of us. Many have made victimhood their pathetic ambition. Woe is me. Woe be us. It is a twisted way to try to feel good, but like autonomy, aspiration also dies with the abdication of responsibility.

We got here innocently enough. Hoodwinked by the orange one and then buried by the malaise of the pandemic, all of which coincided with our surrender to social media silos that narrowed our world to echo chambers of intellectual incest and, for some, psychological collapse. Between politicians and the media, we’ve been gaslighted so many times the vapors have fogged our sense of who we are, or once were, as Americans. It has left us feeling collectively unworthy, suffering from what I can only describe as societal loathing. Many Americans feel alone and abandoned. Moreover, they take no pride in calling themselves Americans anymore.

These days must end. There is no reason to put up with this nonsense any longer. A soon-to-be convicted felon and sociopath, or a well-meaning grandpa who can barely make it to his helicopter. These are the choices of the most powerful and wealthy nation in the world? Spare me. This nation is loaded with bright young people who know better and can do better. Enough already. Remaining in our boxes is not the answer. It is time to emerge. To kick the political provocateurs and dullards to the curb and take control of our future. We need to do it for ourselves and a free world that craves American leadership, but currently sees us as a frail and confused shell of our former selves.

I won’t beat you up with the remembrances of an old man, but the hard reality (and present opportunity) must be considered if we are to reset America. Yes, America was once a great nation and can be again. I remember when Americans wouldn’t even consider, let alone embrace, victimhood or failure. To be sure, we failed, but we learned from failure and tried again; without recrimination or abdication. We failed our way to success. We saw the future as a promising horizon of opportunity, not a venue for victimhood. We understood that the path to success was not paved with the stones of grievance. Furthermore, we took responsibility, individually and collectively. Consequences—for better and worse—were like oxygen. We needed them to live. Moreover, outcomes were the foundation of our self-worth. Taking responsibility for them, which has become something we urgently and often creatively try to avoid today, was critical to our well-being. It was (and is) at the core of self-determination, which has been an essential American value since Thomas Jefferson put quill to parchment.

So, what can you/we do?

To those of you with more gray hair, or none at all, your job is to mentor. To extend the hand of wisdom to lift younger leaders up. Those who need and want to succeed for the benefit of us all. To get out of their way and cheer them on. No, seventy is not the new fifty, it’s seventy. Shed yourself of your old ego and find satisfaction—self-worth—in helping others succeed. Focus on having the deep word, not the last word. Your country needs you now more than ever, but not in the manner it once did. Enable, mentor, inspire. Nudge, don’t shove, and I’ll say it again: get out of the way!

To those who have all their hair and energy to match it, you are not your social media feed. You are human and have responsibility for yourself, your family, your country and world. That may seem daunting, but it is also your great opportunity to find both your purpose and meaning. It is your path to greatness. Find your way with humility and grace. Embrace failure and learn from it. You can do it. Your ancestors did and so can you. Yes, things are different today; arguably easier. Put your phone down and look at the horizon. All of that world out there is yours. Go and get it!

This American reset will take time. We need to balance our ambition with patience. Be both relentless and deliberate. Above all else, we need to respect ourselves and each other. Shut up and listen. Consider the fact that every person you encounter knows something you don’t know and can do something better than you can do it. And, you have the same to offer. Working together brings all possibilities to the table to assure our mutual success. To make tomorrow better than today. To lead the world once again.