Monday, May 3, 2010

Did the good old days ever really exist?

One of the things that frustrates me is when someone suggests that our culture or our world at large needs to "return to a simpler time" or "remember the good old days". Now, I realize that, being under 30 (or 40, or 50, or whatever the arbitrary cutoff for these kind of discussions is today), I'm doing exactly what everyone thinks of doing, reveling in the foolishness of my youth, whatever. (And yes, I just said 'whatever'. Don't hate me.)

There are a few problems with the "let's go back" line of logic, however. The easy way of saying it is that, essentially, the good old days weren't as good for everyone as they were for you, and that while times may have been simpler before today. that simplicity also reflected a lack of options for many people, even yourself. And sometimes we might feel that having fewer options is better. It is simpler.

For me, when I hear someone calling for a "return to old fashioned values" or the morals of their grandparents, I'm always curious what they're actually searching for. It's certainly true that there are problems in our society that weren't present fifty years ago, or at least not in the forms we see them. Yes, we live in a busy, sexualized and secularized culture. But a debate over whether this is good or bad is fruitless, and calls to revert are pure fantasy.

There's an endless quality to this desire to reach back--do we go back before MTV, or before penicillin? Do we go back to the past we wish we could have had, or the past as it actually was? Memories are never reliable: your life, even the worst moments of it, seared in your brain, becomes slightly softened and distant with time. Depending on what's being recalled, this can either be a curse or a mercy.

I'm curious to know what people think of this "returning to simpler times/better values/insert buzzworthy phrase here" idea. What do you wish people collectively could return to? What are you glad to have left behind?

And the biggest question: Is anything ever exactly where it should be? Or is there always something better, something worse?


  1. This is interesting. I was JUST thinking that I'm in the wrong generation, that I'd do better in the 40's or 20's (which is partially about style), but then I read that the average life span was until 54 in the 1920a'w! Then I thought about where I live now, North Carolina, with all the segregation and stuff in the 20's, I decided I was ok here.

  2. good thoughts hmint.

    I think that we have a tendency to romanticize the past and gloss over the bad things of those days. It is appalling to me because I'm much more interested in incarnating myself in the present than in yearning for some sort of glory day.

    It seems if we are to live in the here and now, one day we can look back at the time that we want to currently complain about and think "those were good days."

  3. Hi Heather,
    thanks for your nice comments on
    I like these music links.
    To answer your question of above, farming, gardening, sharing in a neighborhood, not driving everywhere, taking things in moderation, allowing kids to be kids with long lazy days, baking together with real ingredients....these are some of the things I would return to happily. In my own small ways I am doing that.

  4. Loving your comments, friends! I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that when we talk about "returning" or "going back", especially culturally, we have to be willing to consider the unique difficulties of the specific time we are longing to return to!

  5. in the words of the great Billy Joel: "The good ol' days weren't always good, and tomorrow ain't as bad as it seems."

    Although, I really would like to find where I can buy a package of Sen-Sen's :-)