The Good Old Days

“Say not, ‘Why were the former days better than these?’ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (Ecclesiates 7:10) Apparently, remembering the past as better than it really was is not a new pastime. It was a problem in Solomon’s time – and, for that matter, long before.

There are two problems with the “good old days” mentality. First, it creates an idealized past that never existed, then condemns everything that doesn’t fit that imaginary model. The fact is that there were problems in the past, there are problems in the present, and there will be problems in the future. There never has been an ideal society. There never has been an ideal church. And claiming that things were so much better 50 years ago is neither wise or realistic.

Second, it often goes hand-in-hand with bashing young people today. Do you really think that proclaiming, “Kids were so much better when I was a kid” is anything but self-serving twaddle? If anything, the young people I’m around and that my kids hang out with are better kids than many I grew up with, or (if I’m honest) than I was myself.

So when I read the following social media post by Felicia Wilson, I found myself agreeing whole-heartedly. I’m sharing it here with her permission, and with only slight editing.

Humor author Douglas Adams wrote:

“I’ve come up with a set of rules that describe our reactions to technologies:

  1. Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  2. Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  3. Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”

Like all good satire, there’s a lot of truth in this quote. This is why it drives me crazy when some folks fulminate against the internet, or self-checkout lanes, or social media, or everyone carrying a cell phone, or “people being on their phones all the time.” They’re not stopping the wave of the future and they’re not helping to get rid of these things. They’re just showing their age.

The homicide rate has been falling for the last 700 years!

We hear claims that in the rosy past, children played outside in perfect safety until the streetlights came on. But the reality is that in recent American history, violent crime, including crimes against children, were at their highest in the 1970s, then again climbed to record levels in the 1990s, and have been consistently falling ever since. (Lots of links to documentation here.) In fact, historians tell us that in general, the homicide rate has been falling since the 13th century!

And we know that sexual abuse of children has been a phenomenon for a long time.

We hear that back before cell phones and social media, people talked to each other instead of being buried in their phones. But people were finding ways to ignore each other long before phones came along, as this old photo clearly shows. When it wasn’t phones, it was TV, newspapers, books, music, plays, etc.

We hear that things are so much dirtier and more sexualized than they were in the past. But the sexual revolution happened in the 1960’s.

I have a book written by Louisa May Alcott in 1869 titled “An Old-Fashioned Girl.” It is exactly what it sounds like: simple, country girl goes to visit her city friend and is exhausted by all their new-fangled ways. This is a quote from the book.

Polly had never been much to the theater . . . That night she saw one of the new spectacles which have lately become the rage, and run for hundreds of nights, dazzling, exciting, and demoralizing the spectator by every allurement French ingenuity can invent, and American prodigality execute . . . 

When four-and-twenty girls, dressed as jockeys, came prancing on to the stage, cracking their whips, stamping the heels of their topboots, and winking at the audience, Polly did not think it at all funny, but looked disgusted, and was glad when they were gone; but when another set appeared in a costume consisting of gauze wings, and a bit of gold fringe around the waist, poor unfashionable Polly didn’t know what to do; for she felt both frightened and indignant, and sat with her eyes on her playbill, and her cheeks getting hotter and hotter every minute.

The 1700’s spawned some of the most scandalous erotic novels in all of literature. (Not putting in a link: you can find them easily enough – but don’t.) And even Shakespeare’s “The Rape of Lucrece” in 1594 was obviously meant to titillate the reader. There has never been a time when society has been pure and moral because society has always been composed of fallen humans.

And then there is the denigration and contempt for young people with the catch-all phrase “Millennials.” This really, really annoys me.

First, it’s not even accurate. The youngest millennials are 23, the oldest are 38. Most of us millennials are out working jobs and raising families. Many of the supposed lazy and entitled millennials that older people complain about are actually Generation Z.

Second, young people do not hold the corner on entitlement. I think we have all met plenty of entitled Baby Boomers. The stereotype of the angry, entitled woman demanding at the top of her lungs to see the manager is that of a middle-aged, well-off white woman.

Third, contempt of young people is not even original. Old people have been ragging on young people for a long time.

  • “The young people of today think of nothing but themselves. They have no respect for their parents or old age. They are impatient of all restraint. They talk as if they alone know everything and what passes for wisdom in us foolishness in them. As for the girls, they are foolish and immodest and unwomanly in speech, behavior, and dress.” — Peter the Hermit, 11th Century
  • “Our young men have grown slothful. There is not a single honorable occupation for which they will toil night and day. They sing and dance and grow effeminate and curl their hair and learn womanish tricks of speech; they are as languid as women and deck themselves out with unbecoming ornaments. Without strength, without energy, they add nothing during life to the gifts with which they were born — then they complain of their lot.” — Seneca, 1st Century AD
  • “Our youth have an insatiable desire for wealth; they have bad manners and atrocious customs regarding dressing and their hair and what garments or shoes they wear.” — Plato, 5th century BC
  • “The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love to chatter in place of exercise.” — Socrates, 5th century BC
  • “I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. 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.” — Hesiod, 8th Century BC
  • “Our Earth is degenerate in these later days; there are signs that the world is speedily coming to an end; bribery and corruption are common; children no longer obey their parents; every man wants to write a book and the end of the world is evidently approaching.” — Assyrian Clay Tablet, 2800 BC

So the next time you’re tempted to complain about millennials or cell phones or self-checkout lanes, consider that the problem might not be any of those things. It might just be your lack of wisdom.

Steve Oliver Written by:

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