Monday, July 19

The Good Old Days

Do not say, "Why is it that the former days were better than these?" For it is not from wisdom that you ask about this. (Ecc. 7:10)

I'm letting you in on one of my pet peeves today. It's the sort of doom and gloom thinking that says, "The world is going to hell in a handbasket! Day by day things get worse. If only we could turn back the clock to the time when kids could roam freely in their neighborhoods, and we didn't have to worry about them, and we could trust our neighbors, and kids actually learned something in school, and 12-year-old girls didn't run around in belly shirts and jeans cut low....and so on, and so on, and so on." It's all silly thinking!

I hope you know me well enough by now to know that I'm not going defend dressing little girls like ladies of the evening. Or dressing mature women that way either. These are not good things. I'm granting that some things are worse now than they were in previous generations, and it's honorable to point those things out and do what we can to change them. Seeing the particular things that are wrong in our own times helps us guard against them, and work to make things better within our own sphere of influence.

What bothers me is "if only" thinking. If only I could transport my whole family back 30, or 50, or 100 years, everything would be so much better. If only my children could have grown up when I grew up, or when my parents grew up, all our problems would be solved.

For one thing, this is a solution that can't happen, so dreaming about it too much is a big waste of time. We are where we are, and we live when we do, and so we deal with whatever particular problems come with that. Moving back in time is not an option for us.

And it wouldn't work if it were possible either. Pick any era--any one at all. They did some things a whole lot better than we do, and they did some things a whole lot worse. Listen to the stories of those you know who lived in those times. Try to see beyond the romantic version of the way things were to the little details that let you know how things really were.

Here's an example from my own life. I went to elementary school in the 60's. It was a good experience for me. I did well. I liked school. I wasn't exposed to students using nasty words, or dressing inappropriately. Most of my teachers were church goers, and the atmosphere of their classrooms reflected that. However, I can think of at least one way that school was worse then than it is now. It was commonly thought--by teachers, and school administrators, and society in general--that it was a good thing to use bullies as a tool to keep order in the classroom and on the playground.

One of my teachers, a Christian man and a dear man, was very open with us, as a class of fifth graders, that discipline-by-bullying was something he believed in, and something he practiced. So he looked the other way when the class smart aleck was knocked around a bit on the playground by the one boy in the class who was bigger than everyone else because he had been held back a year or two. He looked the other way when the class misfit was knocked around too, because being socially inept was just as much something to be knocked out of someone as having a sassy mouth was. This is the way the big bully got approval from the teacher. Not by completing assignments, or sitting quietly, or reading, or actively participating in the classroom, but by punishing the teacher's "problem students" with his fists. This teacher was a teacher of great reputation, and a reputation that was in many ways deserved. He was simply doing what he had been taught in classroom management, and doing something that was looked upon favorably, as a general rule, by society in this era.

I learned several years ago that the "class bully" had spent most of his adult life in prison. He may well have gone there even without the sort of encouragement to assault others that my fifth grade teacher gave him, but the teacher's approval certainly didn't help him, did it? It's better, in that regard, to grow up in an era where bullying is simply ignored, rather than approved. It would be better yet to grow up when bullying is actively stifled in schools.

This is just a little example of one way things were worse in "the former days". Some things were better, and some things were worse. Each era has its own sins, and they are different than ours, but they are still there. And it may look like wisdom to long for the old days, but it is not wisdom.

But don't just take it from me. Even the writer of Ecclesiastes says so, and he's a whole lot wiser than I am.