Letter from a cultural misfit
Hey! I wasn't always this way! Culture was introduced to my generation in the home as soon as we had to mind our mom and dad. It wasn't long before we learned not to talk back to them. If we had a place in the family at all, it was as the silent, non-consequential member. We were there to greet relatives pleasingly, no hugging or messy greeting. Then we made a quick getaway to a corner where we played with our toys quietly — never ever noisily.
We, as children, were Nothing: a development-in-progress, a character to be formed, a future person. Certainly not grown-up or intelligent. We were surrounded by Giants, careful not to be in the way, staying out of the way, always. And never muddy feet of any kind in the house. We were disciplined with spankings and not seeing our friends for weeks on end. We peered out on a world bigger, better, older and far beyond us. Our relationship with our peers was always challenging: to look cuter, to get better grades, to please the Giants. The best attention was good attention, certainly not bad attention.
We grew up looking at school teachers, older people and pastors this way. The institutions they worked in were even more revered. The "bad" boy in school was always ostracized; later, it was the town drunk or the bully. "Good" kid gangs fired ire at them. We didn't hang out; we were invited in. Our music was often a longing melody, for past loves or future dreams. Saturday afternoon matinees were a major entertainment. Stars provided heroes and heroines and everybody had a happy ending. Good vs. Evil and Good always won after a tough fight. Also fun were picnics and parades.
Ultimately, we became known as the Silent Generation, a group sandwiched between the productive Greatest Generation and progressive Baby Boomers. It's true, we never complained or protested, quietly being schooled or working and collecting knowledge. We "nothings" became doctors, lawyers, teachers and such, plus husbands and wives. Many of us, some in silent rebellion against home and family, did join the Peace Corps, armed services, government, corporations or nonprofits that sent us to countries or even states where we stayed and raised our children. And they, in turn, stayed and raised their children. I think somewhere during this line of events, there was a profound cultural shift.
Technology, too soon, reared its head and our grandkids, of all people, instantly became demigods. They were so good on the computer. They kept inventing more technological instruments. Language changed, jokes and movies changed — eventually everything changed. Adults were reduced to mere mortality and dullness. Into this scenario I came, as a grandparent, completely disciplined and ready to spread my wisdom. A totally disinterested clientele greeted me. Frustration and disbelief soon followed.
It seems to me, that today's children live in the absolute present. Technology unlocked them from the past, but they never took time to look back at the past. Neither do they have the time to dream of a future. They are arrogant, smart, highly focused, fast little engines, running with little motivation, ambition, inspiration or hope, all the things I lived for. It's no wonder they communicate so well with animals. Their part in the cultural mystery seems to be instinctive.
It's taken a long time for me to discern my role in today's world. I'm refereeing to stay balanced and hang onto my reasoning, a tricky acceptance of both worlds. Certainly we need the technology, and they need the discipline. Edgily, with more understanding and tolerance of each other, we may get the qualities we all want from life. Until then, I'll have to remain a Cultural Misfit.