Sometimes I catch myself drifting back in time. Thinking of a moment in my past and thinking how good things were. For me, it’s playing little league baseball, riding our bikes around the neighborhood, or just goofing off with friends. It’s something we all do at some point in time. Reflecting on something positive and concluding that things were just better “back in the day”.
It reminds me of a short story we read as part of our English literature class when back in college. I wish I could remember the name of the story or the author, but almost thirty years on with life, I can’t recall. The premise is still quite clear.
The story goes like something we’ve all seen or heard. Someone lamenting of the good old days when they did things right. Things were better back then, they had more values during that time, I can go on. In the story, a man in a pub or tavern is lamenting the loss of chivalry. Of course, the story takes place quite some time ago, but the man is arguing how things were better, more chivalrous in the days of knights and ladies, as opposed to the immoral times of his present day. The narrator was taking a critical view of the man, clearly lacking understanding of the reality of things in the days of knights.
We can read just the romantic stories of these brave fighters and their noble ladies, clearly ignoring the hardships of their life and the brutalities of their wars. The man in the story sees only the romantic parts of that era. Clearly, he wants to go back to a time where he doesn’t have good knowledge of the times, thinking only of the popularized, unrealistic view. In the story, the narrator sees the man as an ignorant fool, and rightfully so.
Thinking of this story, I recall visiting my dad a few years ago. In the church in town, the priest was discussing the wholesome days of the 1950s. As I listened, I remembered the story above and thought that the priest sounded much like the man at the bar. He was lamenting the issues of today (too much social media, not enough personal interaction, children doing so much more than before, etc…), and without having lived at that time, he argued that things were much better back in the good old 1950s.
If you watch Leave it to Beaver as the barometer for life in the 1950’s, clearly you see a whitewashed middle class where the only issues present are the learning hiccups “The Beaver” experiences and twenty-something minutes later, he learns a life lesson, and everyone lives happily ever after. The reality is quite different. Segregation and racism were strong. Women had little opportunity in the professional world for equality. As with any time, there were both good and bad. Things to celebrate and cherish, and things that are embarrassing and should prove a learning lesson for future generations.
The priest, like that man in the story, was guilty of taking only a superficial and narrow point of view. We should always take the time to learn and see the entire story. We can see only the good if we choose. I can look back at a version of the 50s, or further back to the knights and ladies, and lament how we’ve lost our way. But we also need to take an honest and realistic view of things, both the good and the bad.
In the end, we need to always heed the lessons of the past. Honoring the good, learning from the bad. Creating an accurate picture and working together to make a positive impact. We can lay the groundwork for a new “good old days” era for our those after us.