They Had It Right

Some would call me an “old soul”. I’ve always thought I was born into the wrong generation. I dream about living in simpler times, when the dinner bell rang, and kids ran in from playing outside. But here I am, a mother in this generation, where I have to pry the devices off my kids’ hands to get them to eat for five minutes.

I can’t go back in time, but I can learn from those who were there, and that is what I strive to do. Over the years, as a nurse and pastor, I’ve had the honor of hearing countless stories of times that are long gone. I would visit with elders in my church, long before I worked in ministry, and I would hang on their every word. I would sit beside my dialysis patients and get to know them. Sometimes we would just chat about how their day went, and the plans they had after treatment, and others we would travel back in time together, as they told me their stories.

In my conversations, I’ve come to the conclusion that they had it right in a lot of areas that we have it wrong.

—They valued stability over change—
Our generation can’t stand still for more than five minutes. We always want what’s next. We believe the lie that the grass is greener on the other side, and we give up too quickly. We want new, better jobs. We’d rather have a new partner than work on our marriage. We want bigger, better houses and cars, because keeping the same one until it’s paid off is boring. In our pursuit of change, we are losing stability, and we wonder why we feel so stressed and out of control.
The older generation had routines, and they stuck to them. They kept the same job for decades, or even a lifetime. They (still) attend church every Sunday, because it’s a priority to them. They are solid, stable, peaceful people, because they don’t give in to every temptation to give up or change their life when they aren’t happy for a moment.

—They worked hard—
I once asked my dad, “how is it that you know how to fix everything?”. His response was, “I couldn’t afford to hire anyone, so I had no choice but to learn myself.” My dad is a man’s man. He rode a bike to college when he couldn’t afford a car, and spent evenings and weekends working two jobs to provide for our family. He never complained. He just did what had to be done.
These days, we’re afraid of hard work. We want to work as little as possible, and play as much as possible. We complain about everything. We’ve become a bunch of wimps who want to get rich off Youtubing all day. Hard work is a great character builder, and maybe that’s where we went wrong. We’ve shied away from hard work, and our character went with it.

—They were present—
When I talk to the older generation, they look straight at me. They have smartphones, but they aren’t checking them during our conversation. They aren’t in a hurry to get anywhere. They take their time. They cherish simple moments. They ask questions, and they listen. Today, the average attention span continues to shrink, as we’re inundated with screens and sounds vying for our attention.
I once stayed overnight in a house built many decades ago. It had since been renovated on the inside, but the thing that struck me the most was how large the front porch was. It was four times bigger than the standard porch built today. I was told that porches were much bigger back then, because that’s where people spent much of their time. Parents would sit on the front porch and watch the kids play in the yard. Friends would pop over and chat for a while, and some might even come up for a slice of pie or a cup of tea and conversation. What I would give to spend a day in that era!

—They were humble—
In today’s world, it seems like everyone’s looking to make a name for themselves. They want their fifteen minutes of fame. We are starved for attention; so full of insecurity that it comes across as arrogant, and we’re desperate for approval. We want to have what’s on the big screen, and little screen in front of us. We want people to adore us. We need to feel important. We live in a selfie-centered world. What’s worse- we’re pressuring our children to do the same. They must be Olympic athletes by the time they’re four. If they’re not in travel ball by fifth grade, they’ll never make it BIG. What if making it big isn’t the goal? What if the goal is to raise our kids to have a healthy, balanced, fulfilled life, outside of fame and fortune? What if we made the goal quality time, and not quantity of activities?
As I talk to the older generation, they find fulfillment in much more important things: providing for their family, raising children, volunteering, and helping out one another. They serve humbly, without need for credit or accolades. Today, everyone needs credit. We can’t do a good deed without posting about it. We want to be known. We want to be heard. We are entitled to our opinion. Shoot, we are entitled to everything. The world is our oyster. And YOLO.

In my humble opinion, we could learn a lot from the generations that have gone before us, but we probably won’t because we think we’re better. Sure, they weren’t perfect. They got some things wrong, but they got a lot of things right. We’ve made a lot of “progress”, but I’m afraid it may not be worth it.

In the end, my opinion doesn’t matter much. I’m just one little grain of sand in this big ocean, but in the time I am given, I hope to be a little more like them than like the generation I live in. These precious souls are fading off, one by one, and boy will I miss them when they’re gone. In the time I have left, I choose to glean as much wisdom as I can from them, and hopefully spread a little of it along to the next gen.