Thursday, June 13, 2024

The "Distant" Past

 Some perspective:

Time is a funny thing. When we look at big chunks of time, like decades, we tend to place it against our own personal histories to contextualize it, to make sense of it. But if that time frame is shifted just a step back, it is almost inconceivable. Try this on for size...
I graduated high school in 1981 - just 43 years ago, almost to the day. However, to even "remember" 1981, one would have to have been born around five years earlier - so, about 1976, our nation's bicentennial, coincidentally. I remember it well. That was all in the 40-45 year time frame ago. Many living today remember those days, it was "not so long ago." Of course, for many more, it was ancient history - the veritable stone-age. There were no personal computers, no internet, no cell-phones, no Fakebook, no electric cars, no streaming, etc. It was a time that only lives in history.
For those of us in 1981, walking across that stage, we were all born in the early 60s. But the graduating class 40 years before ours was... the class of 1941. They were graduating right smack-dab in the middle of WWII. Living in those times, for us walking that stage in 1981, was inconceivable. Those days lived only in history books and through the stories of not our parents - they were, for the most part, too young to remember
Why is this important? Because history books don't tell stories - we do. If our kids "don't understand us," it's not their fault, it's ours. It is our job to tell our stories of what the world was like, the good, the bad and the ugly - to reveal what worked, what didn't and why. Various versions of the quote, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it," attributed to George Santayana in 1905, have been repackaged by many, including Winston Churchill, who said in a speech during WWII, "Those who fail to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it." That past is revealed through art, through stories, through our elders, by those who were there.
If our kids "don't understand," maybe it's because we aren't telling our stories anymore. Maybe it's because we are too busy passing judgement on who they are to spend any effort explaining who we are - who we were. Because, for them, 1981 was just as ancient as 1941 was to us.

Friday, June 07, 2024

Finding Peace

There are a lot of things in life that used to really irritate me. They were typically things I did not understand and I would conflate that misunderstanding with some kind of a negative effect on my life. In most cases, that is not so. There are other things that irritate me that do constitute a negative effect on my life - at least tangentially. But is that irritation due to their mere existence, or of their being brought to my attention? A good argument can be made for the latter, although the existence of many of those things should irritate everyone.

If someone buys - and drives - an ugly car, like the new Tesla truck, I do not have to find it visually appealing. I do not have to understand why others might. I do not have to understand how anyone could justify buying one... I do not have to "get it." It's none of my business. The same goes for an infinite number of other personal choices ranging from dress, to music, to sexual orientation to gender preference - it does not affect me and why I would care in the least makes no sense. Yet, some of those issues (some, we all have our "some" - I don't get Priuses, but that's just me), used to irritate me. In the past, they irked me to the point I'd be compelled to make commentary about it on social media. I'd get community support validating my position, helping me believe that mine was the right side of decorum, the other side would fade into historical ambivalence.

But it didn't matter. None of those things (not mine, not yours) directly affect my life. They are simply the choices others' are making about their lives, living in a free country. However, there are other things that do affect us and should elicit some type of response, even if it's just a mental note of what to do at the ballot box. No one likes our tax-dollars wasted. No one likes politicians skimming off the top. No one likes the powerful subjugating the powerless. These things affect us all. Personally, as a state employee, I am sensitive to the stereotype of the state employee being paid for a 40 hour work week when they actually put in far less. The reality is that the vast majority put in an honest work week for an honest week's pay. But there are those few who do not, sometime flaunting it publicly, perpetuating the stereotype.

And, of course, there are gray areas. Not in terms of personal gray areas - we are all pretty sure what are public matters that affect us all and what are not - the grayness comes into play in the areas I believe are personal choices that have no affect on me versus the same ones you think are public and a direct affront to you. I cannot resolve this. I can say this, however: My list of things that affront me is considerably shorter than it once was. Considerably. As a result, my life is more peaceful, more serene and brighter. I have also, almost as a side-effect, gained a greater degree of empathy. I wasn't looking for that, but it's not a bad thing. I also wasn't looking to pare down my list, I was simply looking for peace - this was one way in which I have found it.