“Things were so much better when I was a kid.” “I miss the good old days.” “What’s the matter with kids today?” Ever heard someone complain that everything used to be better? No matter who we are or where we live we yearn for the past. We look back through the dreamy glass of nostalgia, reminiscing about the days when everything was simple. If there is one thing everybody can agree on, it’s that the good old days were the best.
But was the past truly as marvelous as we recall? Seniors often chide today’s world for being overly complicated and deviating from traditional morals. True, while technology has streamlined global infrastructure, it has allowed it to become remarkably complex. I could go on to discuss the benefits of technology, but I think the comment about morals is more interesting. When most of today’s senior citizens were growing up, Hitler was pioneering a continental genocide, Stalin was purging millions of his own citizens, and black people were second-class citizens in America. I could be strange, but that doesn’t sound very utopian to me.
Another charge many people like to make is that children these days are going nowhere. All kids do today is sit at the computer and do drugs. Aside from lacking factual evidence, this accusation invokes an irony most people fail to see: this is the same criticism that their parents had for them. Each generation believes the next will be the downfall. Kids in the 1950s experimented with the corruptive influences of rock ‘n’ roll and G.I. hairstyles. During the 1970s young adults protested war by embracing the radical ideas of environmentalism and love.
My great-grandmother lived into her nineties. Born at the turn of the 20th century, she grew up through WWI and the influenza epidemic, raised her children during the depression, and persevered through WWII, Korea, the Red Scare, civil rights, Vietnam, the Cold War, and the digital revolution. Her observation? The world is always ending. No matter the circumstances, the future appears daunting and unnerving. The tranquility of the past is a creation of the human mind, a security we crave in the face uncertainty.
So were things really better in the past? It’s certainly possible. But the warmth of nostalgia is an illusion, a figment of our desire for comfort in the face of the unknown. When the tide becomes rough and the horizon looks dim, we must overcome the urge to turn back and push forward into tomorrow.
Comment question of the week
If you could hop in a time machine and travel anywhere in history, where would you go? What would you see?