The other day I ran across a file on my computer that contained part of an old Internet forum discussion from 2012 I had taken part in. After reading through it, I decided it is even more relevant today than it was then, so I’m sharing it below.
In discussing how different things are today in America from “the way it used to be” many generations ago, I had commented on the forum…
“The only thing that has happened is that time has marched on, technology has made weirder and weirder stuff possible, the “world” had gotten smaller and smaller with everything more interconnected than isolationists could ever imagine—and yet human nature has stayed EXACTLY the same … and we are now reaping what we have sown throughout our history … as a country.”
Another forum participant had responded:
Good comment, but one thing I want to add.
I believe American nature, American attitude has changed over the last 300 years. I am not talking about how “we used to be a Christian nation, but are not any more.” I am talking about why people left Europe to come here. This was risky business, putting your and your families life on the line. Why did people do it? They wanted the freedom found in the book of Judges and they were willing to risk everything to get it. They expected no hand outs and knew help would only come from neighbors or perhaps charity if things went real bad.
If you visit Williamsberg, you will see how it was hard to keep hired hands. That is because people would come to the US, work for someone for a little while, then go off and start their own farm of 100 acres or start their own business. People came to America to grow and take chances. Our population density was tiny compared to Europe, resources more abundant, and people were not stifled as they had been for at least a millenia by the kings and queens of Europe and their fifal system.
(I guess this is what he had in mind)
But since WWII we have grown fat and happy. That drive is not there any more.
I just got done re-reading Boys at Risk and the author points out at the end of the book the reason he sees people investing in China and Brazil and even Russian is because their men still have drive and determination, something that is becoming entirely lacking the US men.
Here was my response:
(You had written)… “I believe American nature, American attitude has changed over the last 300 years… But since WWII we have grown fat and happy. That drive is not there any more.”
I hear this kind of reasoning all the time, and it has never made any sense to me. The circumstances that “created in people” in any generation certain drives and attitudes are very “era specific.” That is what is “not there any more.” Time has marched on, and circumstances have changed. And thus people in subsequent generations indeed don’t have the same drives. To expect them to…seems to me to be actually irrational!
My grandparents and parents lived through the Great Depression and the rationing of WW2. They had absolutely drummed into their heads through circumstances … and government propaganda posters … that they needed to recycle every bit of everything, never throw anything out, always just fix something or do without. And they internalized that to the nth degree. If you’ve not dealt with an elderly relative with a “hoarder” mentality, you are lucky. I have, and it was an incredible curse once the “era” in which it was needed was over. A&E even had a whole video series on the problem:
But after WW2 what the nation “needed” to get back to prosperity was conspicuous consumption. Madison Avenue worked overtime to convince Americans that they must have all the latest and most modern items, must not bother to fix anything but just buy a newer model. And the reason we needed to do this was to keep the engines of national prosperity going. America had long been built on the notion that “gross national product” must have a continual explosion upward. Being honest, it wasn’t the average citizen grasping to be fat and happy after WW2. It was the “economic system” demanding that he become so—by spending his way to that happiness. So that the corporations providing all the goodies could be fat and happy!
What were we even told as American citizens after 9/11? DON’T save … spend. Don’t sacrifice to help the nation prepare for responding to a growing terrorist threat. No, two weeks after the twin towers were brought down, President Bush urged, “Get down to Disney World in Florida. Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed.”
If a child grows up in a deprived environment, they learn by experience to just appreciate every tiny little thing they get. If they finally “make good” as an adult, and have the resources to provide more for their own children, is it really fair… or even rational … to expect that those children will just “naturally” appreciate every little thing they get? Yes, you can teach children gratitude, and you can avoid “spoiling” them with too much luxury… but by what right do you “expect” them to just naturally have those feelings?? It’s nice if their parents appreciated every little thing they had when they were young, but it wasn’t so much that they were “nobler” people by nature. They just were reacting to circumstances.
“We” haven’t “grown” anything, let alone just “fat and happy.” We are living in the generation we were born into, with the experiences and environment of that generation. Yes, again we can “teach” our children whatever values we think are important, including how “precious” freedom of religion is or whatever. But to expect children who were not specifically taught anything to just “nobly” exude attitudes we may admire in other generations such as the Pilgrims or Pioneers seems to me to be an unfounded expectation.
If we just continually harp that “this generation”… of kids, or even adults … just doesn’t “measure up” to the nobility of past generations we aren’t helping this generation at all. We are just being curmudgeons.
You’ve probably heard the “jokes” … which aren’t really jokes at all, but reflect reality in many cases … of the grandfather or father who drives the kids crazy with the stories of how much harder he had it when he was young—he had to walk five miles to school, in blizzards, uphill—both ways. We joke about such claims, but indeed many parents and grandparents somehow think such stories should “inspire” their kids to be more hardy. Or grateful. Or something.
But you can’t transfer gratitude. Don’t try to tell me that if you were a kid back then and suddenly could have been relieved of having to live such a Spartan life, you wouldn’t have jumped at the opportunity! And after a year or two of the “new way,” you may well have ceased being quite so consciously, incredibly grateful every day of your life for the new way … you’d begin to take it for granted. And that would only be a natural response. Not an evil one.
In spite of the rants of some religious “prophecy experts” who insist that Jesus is coming back any day now and this “present evil world” is coming to a swift end, I am fully convinced that this generation is not going to be the last one of man’s rule on Earth. We may have a lot more of them coming up.
So I find it disheartening to consider comments just like these below, which are typical on forums on the Internet from some people in the “older generations.” Boy, if this current younger generation (those who are 25 and under, perhaps) is this bad, what a dismal future we have!
- We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient.
- When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly disrespectful and impatient of restraint.
- What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets, inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?
- The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no reverence for parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. The girls are forward, immodest and unladylike in speech, behavior and dress.
- I think morals are getting much worse. There were no such girls in my time as there are now. When I was 24 or 25 my mother would have knocked me down if I had spoken improperly to her.
Yes, if that is what the “younger generation” is like now, what a dismal future we’ll have to expect.
Well…and then again… those quotes aren’t from the Internet, as much as their whining may sound similar to posts you’ve read recently. No, they are a tad older than last week or last month or last year’s whining.
Number 1: Those words were actually inscribed on a 6,000-year-old Egyptian tomb.
Number 2: That comment was made by Hesiod, in the 8th century BC.
Number 3: Plato made that remark in the 4th century BC.
Number 4: That quote is attributed to a man named Peter the Hermit in 1274.
Number 5: That was what a 60-year-old lady named Charlotte Kirkman testified in 1843, as part of an investigation in Great Britain into the bad behavior of contemporary youth. Lord Ashley, speaking in the House of Commons in the same year, argued that “the morals of the children are tenfold worse than formerly”. (From the webpage 8000 Years of Civilization-threatening Behavior)
I could go on and on with documentation of the low opinion of the elders of the 1890s-1940s regarding the lack of morals and lack of restraint and lack of respectability and lack of drive of the youth of each of those eras. But I won’t. Except to show you a few photos.
And I won’t bore you with stories of what adults had to say about the youth of the “Baby Boomer” generation (folks now in their 60s and 70s) back in the 1950s and 60s. Suffice it to say that concerns about juvenile delinquency were SO strong by the early 1950s…
…that there were literally televised Congressional hearings in 1954 on just HOW bad the problem was in the US at that point.
And books written in the early 1960s on just how bad the current younger generation then was.
To say nothing of the bumper crop of “juvenile delinquent”-themed films that hit the movie screens in the mid-to-late 1950s.
If we keep up that same kind of never-ending ranting in our own time, bitching and bitching that people (particularly youth) just aren’t like they were in the Good Old Days, we are NOT going to make things better. So what will it be … do we really want to make a difference in our era, or just bitch about it?
I choose the former.
I’m tired of all the bitching. I’ve done enough of it myself over the years. It’s time to try a different approach.
I have two wonderful grandchildren, ages 21 and 23. Yup, they have none of the “drive” that led the Pilgrims and Pioneers to do the physical things they did back hundreds of years ago to carve out the wilderness. No, they don’t “value” many of the same things that those folks did in terms of “opportunities.” Yes, they take modern conveniences for granted; they expect, within reason, to have all the tech that is available (and with a computer geek for a grandpa, they get it.) (And by the way, all those facts are true of me, also!)
But I don’t expect them to emulate the Pilgrims or Pioneers. I expect them to blaze their own trail to accomplish the things God puts on their hearts. Which will look totally different from what those earlier generations did. I want to help imbue them with “biblical values” when it comes to morals, and how they deal with relationships, and with characteristics such as honesty, integrity, empathy, and kindness. But I’m really not disappointed that they aren’t into zealously plowing fields and chopping down trees (and wiping out Native Americans…) so they can have their own fiercely independent homestead.
Yes, there are a lot of things going on among all ages in this generation (not just youth) that are wrong. But the answer isn’t bitching. It’s encouraging, mentoring, modeling, and being a light.
I was born in 1946, in the first wave of the postwar Baby Boom. That means that back in 1960, I was just entering high school. That year a popular musical debuted on Broadway called Bye Bye Birdie. It was turned into a popular movie in 1963 starring Dick Van Dyke. A recurring theme in the musical was the opinion of the older generation that “modern kids” were going to hell in a handbasket. And this was most evident in one of the most popular songs from the score. Have a listen as Paul Lynde whines, “What’s the Matter With Kids Today?” I contend that he sounds exactly like lots of Baby Boomer-age folks on the Internet who gripe about Kids Today. Except…the Boomer generation was exactly who he was talking about in 1960 when he first sang this song on Broadway!
I choose be an encourager of youth today, not a curmudgeon like Lynde. I hope many others do also.