There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t see a post from a friend on Facebook touting how much better things were in the past. These posts come from friends on all sides of the political spectrum; what they have in common is that they are old farts like me. The implication was that we had it better back in the days when our parents disciplined us if we were wrong, when we were free to wander where we wanted, when there were limited selections on TV, where you where held accountable for your actions, where you weren’t coddled and given “participation awards”, where you weren’t tethered to your electronic masters, where … I’m sure you have the idea.
Guess what? This particular “old fart” thinks you are wrong. This particular “old fart” thinks you are looking at the past through rose colored retrospect glasses. As Tom Paxton oft says, it’s OK to look back, as long as you don’t stare. These folks are staring.
Often these “it was better back then” posts have an implicit message of “it was better back when we had our privilege intact”. These posts are primarily being made by those who were white “back in the day” (well, to be true, they are still white now), and they neglect the fact that if you weren’t part of the “privileged” group than life was pretty bad. There was segregation in the South, minorities were targets of abuse, and those with different sexual orientations were ostracized and bullied. Most folks just didn’t see it and weren’t aware of it, and so they were “good times”. This “old fart”: I’d rather live in a time where we are all accepted and valued, irrespective of skin color or sexual orientation. Although not perfect, things are much better these days.
What about discipline? Often these posts wistfully recall the days where you’re parents would smack you if you were bad, where school administrators used paddles to keep kids in line, where society, in general, accepted violence against kids. But this “old fart” disagrees: violence against children is never acceptable, whether the intent is to hurt or to discipline. Such violence creates mental scars that impact children into adulthood.
Some reminisce about what was on TV or in the market. TV was perceived to be better simply because there were less choices, and so everyone agreed on things more. But when you look back, you’ll see that the families presented were monochromatic. You’ll see that what you were laughing at was often stereotypic humor, making fun of people or groups. You’ll find sexism. You’ll find products that were unregulated and unsafe. You’ll find media manipulating relationships to sell sell sell. Today’s media landscape is much much better.
When we constantly say the past was better, we’re selectively remembering what the past was. We’re forgetting the intolerance of the world then, the hatred of groups, and how that impacted what we did and what we watched. We’re forgetting what we didn’t have.
For some, there is also the implicit attitude of: I went through this hardship — you should have to live through it to. It builds character and makes you a better person. Guess what? Our kids turn out to be pretty good people without the hardships, the beatings, the sexism, the tauntings, and the trauma. Our great grandparents lived without running water. Does that mean we have to live that way to build character? I had relatives that lived through pogrums. Does that mean I have to in order to have a better character? I have relatives that had all sorts of medical problems that couldn’t be cured. Does that mean I shouldn’t see the doctor, or take advantage of modern medicine? We work hard to make this a better world for our children. So why should then say it was better in the past before all the good stuff we created?
Our attitude should be, and must be, that we lived through this hardship, and we’re going to do our best to make sure that no one else has to go through that shit. We need to elect leaders that feel that way, but that’s the subject of another post.
Seriously, folks, modulo the current leadership in the White House, we live in pretty damn good times. Things aren’t perfect, but we shouldn’t expect them to be. Our job is to keep making things better, not live in the past. Our job must also be to make sure we don’t move backwards.
ETA: My friend Ric Wayman (from high school days) took the post above and made it even better in an opinion piece in South Utah Now. I have only one disagreement: I prefer “old fart” to “person of age” 🙂