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Were The Good Old Days That Good?

Updated on August 14, 2013

Many people seem to reminisce about the “Good Old Days.” They look back at those days as if they were truly wonderful: an age of innocence, a time of high morality, etc. The thing is that there have always been people who have looked back on the past and thought that they no longer lived in such a good time. One day people will probably refer to the time in which we are living as the Good Old Days. That does not mean that we are continuously progressing downhill.

There is, moreover, a psychological tendency to prefer the past. Much of the time we do not appreciate something while we have it. Only after we lose it do we often thing about how wonderful having that thing was. I have a hard time appreciating the fact that I have two arms and two legs, and that I can see out of both my eyes. If I were to lose any of those things I most likely would say that I would give anything just to have whatever I lost back.

On a similar note, I can look back to the past and see much of it as the “Good Old Days.” I think about my childhood, when I had fewer responsibilities. It would be nice to have that back again. I think about how it would nice if my parents were younger and healthier. Other people may miss some of the things that existed in the past. They enjoyed seeing Hudson cars on the road every day. Those days, however, no longer exist.

Back to the subject of aging, so I can discuss how it affects me. I am in my mid-thirties, and I am bolding. There are also some gray hairs on my head. Would it not be nice to be back in my twenties again? If I were in my twenties I would also have more in common with the urban community in which I live, Boston. I would fit into the mainstream, by being in the median age group of Boston. The only thing is that the median age in Boston is actually 31.1. People make conclusions based on observations, not necessarily statistics. I see all these people, presumably in their twenties, and assume that the median age in Boston is twenty something when it is not.

You see people make false assumptions, especially about the past. One assumption that people make is that the crime rate continues to climb, particularly the juvenile crime rate, simply after learning about different crime incidence on the news. Violent crime has been declining steadily. Juvenile crime is also declining. Yet some people will talk about the ever eroding respect for authority that our children have.

Within the last year I had two Facebook friends who I had known from my childhood at school make posts on Facebook about how well they respected authority when they were a child. According to these people, they addressed all adults, including their parents as “sir and madam.” They left the room whenever there was company. They wore nice formal clothes to school and changed into less formal clothes when they got home and wanted to play outside. The post ends with “I wish we could have more of those days back again.”

These two people in particular did not seem to show a lot of respect for adult authority when they were in school. I recall one of them giving a teacher the finger. The other one consistently yelled out in class while the teacher was talking. Some people might argue that my generation was the start of this decline in respect for authority. (I went to school in the 1980’s and early 1990’s.) These two Facebook friends, however, seem to see our generation as being prior to this moral decline. Their lack of respect for authority, however, makes me second guess the claims adults made when I was a child, in which they said the same things that these two Facebook friends made.

I think that my two Facebook buddies may have been using what in psychology is called “projection.” They knew how obnoxious they were as children, and so they go on about how children today have lost all this respect for authority. By making this claim, people will mistakenly believe my two Facebook friends greatly respected adults when they were young.

Adults who made the same claims when I was a child may also have been using projection. In reality these people may have been holy terrors as kids, just like my two friends on Facebook.

Through looking back at history it appears that there has always been a large segment of the adult population in whatever time period who claims that the current generation of children has lost respect for authority. Watch the movie Twelve Angry Men to see one of the jurors talking about kids no longer respecting adults. The movie was made in 1957, a time when some people would have us believe was the height of morality and respect for authority. I was reading Clarence Darrow’s book The Story of My Life, written in 1932, in which he at one point discussed the notion of the time that children did not respect authority and were often criminal. We can go back to Plato discussing the loss of morality in children.

Moving on from the discussion of children, there is the concept of progress to analyze. In many ways, things improve both in our lives and in terms of society over time. As I said earlier, we often think more about what we lose instead of what we have. We could say that we do not appreciate what we gain so much. For that reason, we do not look at how things have improved in our lives or in society. I think less about the advances I have made since I was in my twenties, for instance.

There are numerous other examples to show how society has not coined the term “the good new days.” In the 1950’s, people were tormented by the threat of nuclear war. Many people thought it was only a matter of time before we would be annihilated in a nuclear holocaust. Blacks had to sit at separate lunch counters. The concept of gay rights was barely on the radar. There were a lot more illnesses that were untreatable. We can continue. Many individuals might respond by saying that these problems still exist, or that new threats exist that are the equivalent to these problems.

There are still nuclear weapons, but there are a lot less than before. Some countries that are not friendly with us might develop or obtain nuclear weapons. India and Pakistan might use nuclear weapons against each other. They have not yet. Much of the world is working to prevent nuclear weapons being used by certain regimes. It is hard to say that the threat of nuclear war is anywhere as great as people thought it was in the 1950’s. Similarly, one cannot say that the threat of terrorism has replaced the threat of nuclear annihilation. Tragedies such as September 11th or the Boston Marathon bombings do not come anywhere as close. The statistics show that an average individual is more likely to drown in a bathtub than be killed by terrorists.

In terms of health, we cannot say that AIDS replaced all the advances we had made in medicine since the 1950’s. Even though it was a new disease in the 1980’s, there were ways to not contract the virus. Now of course there are successful treatments for AIDS.

Finally, some people might say that we are returning to segregation through voter suppression. While that is the intent of some of the people in supporting laws making it more difficult to vote, we have not successfully suppressed blacks as much as we have in the past.

The reality is that there is nothing that special about the past. We are progressing in many ways too, even though we come across hurdles.



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      3 years ago

      Love your article. I am in my mid-50s, and get enormously irritated by 'good old days' comments. Yes there are things from the 60s that I now miss. But that doesn't mean everything was somehow rosy and wonderful in some bygone era.

      I also have a good memory for conversations, and remember the adults talking when I was a teenager, about 'young people today' and how bad we all were. I recently read a quote made by a teacher about how young people today are lazy, disrespectful blah blah. It was written in 1915!

      Nothing new under the sun!


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