Not infrequently on Facebook I see posts that bring on a wave of sadness. The posts I mean are not personal position statements thought out by the friend posting but what I think of as t-shirt or bumper sticker ideas the friend picked up somewhere else and reposted, so that now other friends are encouraged to “Share if you agree.” I never do. Never share, that is.
Sometimes I agree. Sometimes I identify strongly with the sentiment expressed. Other times I most emphatically do not. Either way, though, what so often brings on the sadness is an immediate gut response that, if put into words, would go something like this (if Fb allowed for italics, which it does not): “Oh, please, friends! It’s so much more complicated than that!”
(Americans, I read somewhere the other day, "don’t like nuance." There’s another blanket statement I can’t buy, because ain’t I an American?)
So now, to make good on today’s subject heading, here’s an example of what I’m talking about. The text reads as follows:
1944: 18 year olds [sic] storm the beach of Normandy into almost certain death.
2016: 18 year olds [sic] need a safe place because words hurt their feelings.
Then, of course, “Share if you agree.”
Originally I was going to title this post “Passing Judgments on Entire Generations,” but I figured that was too long a title. The subtext of the Fb post, however, asks us to do just that. It implies that one generation, that of World War II, i.e., my parents’ generation, was manly and courageous (at least, they men were, right?) and that a younger generation, my grandchildren, are a pack of whiny, sniveling, cowardly little babies. One generation all heroes, the other all sissies.
I don’t buy it.
Every generation has heroes and cowards, patriotic soldiers (some gung-ho, some reluctant), principled pacifists, and a majority of ordinary people who serve their country in thousands of diverse ways, at home and abroad.
What did I learn from my parents’ generation? What was the most important lesson they taught me?
I’ll tell you. We were taught the Golden Rule. We were taught not that crying when picked on by a bully was shameful and babish but that bullying was shameful. That name-calling was shameful. That when we were witness to bullying and name-calling or any other kind of bad behavior, it was our job to speak against the bad behavior and speak up for the innocent.
And my grandchildren are being taught the same lessons today. They know that speaking out for what is right can be difficult, but they have the courage to stand up and be counted, and I am proud of their courage. I am proud of their sensitivity to the feelings of others, both those like them and those different from them.
“Kids today!” It’s a lament as old as the human race, but would any of us change places with our grandchildren? What a world they are inheriting! And well, it’s easy to gild the past and kick dirt on the present, isn't it? And the temptation is especially great as we grow older and seek cheap comfort in nostalgia. But how does that help anyone?
That's my bottom line. Do I have anything to say that's going to help anyone? Will sharing this or that somehow make the world better?
Because we need to ask what we can do to support young people in this confusing, difficult, threatening and threatened world. Because writing off the future of our country and the world makes no sense at all.