Recently I have been listening to Traveling with Charley by John Steinbeck. First off, it is a fantastic book and though the validity of Steinbeck’s travels in the book have been debated, he paints a beautiful picture of America in the early 1960s—and sadly—a dim one at times due to the racial tensions in the south.
Towards the end of the book, Steinbeck points out how him and his family have intense discussions about politics and how democrats are communists and republicans are fascists—you know, the same discussions we are having in 2018. Steinbeck also had discussions on poverty, racism, coastal politics verses the deep south, and of course, the merit of the man sitting in the oval office.
I detail all of this for you because when I was a kid, we were not without headlines and 24-hour news discussions on how my generation (I am 27 as of this writing) was surely going to be the worse. Now that I am older, there is no shortage of people saying the 18-22 year old crowd is going to be the worst.
Without a doubt, Steinbeck’s generation said my parents’ generation was going to be the worse and so on and so on. We seem to be working ourselves into a position wherein everyone who is younger is going to be significantly worse than those who came before them.
But I disagree.
I think we have made progress going forward—on political, intellectual, and social fronts. Politically we have diversified with a political outsider claiming the office in 2016 and the first black president scoring a victory in 2008. Regardless of how you feel about these men, these are advancements.
Intellectually, we have developed the technological field beyond measure and have had more advancements in the past 15 years than in the past 100 years. Of course, we have to deal with the minor occurrences of safe spaces, outlandish university professors, and people who seem to be constantly offended, but those folks are in the minority, even though the media portrays them as the majority.
And lastly, socially, I would say that while we have not been perfect with issues of race, we have made major advancements since the 1960s on treating all people equally—regardless of their beliefs or color—again, not perfect, but demonstrably better than the 1960s. It’s important to say that sentence twice as people like to nuance and parse words to make statements more bombastic than they really are.
I think every generation, rightfully so, ought to improve on the one prior. Every generation needs to learn from the mistakes of those who came before. I think there is an argument to be made that we have been doing that.
While it is only one example, let’s take a look at worldwide poverty. Here’s a statement from The World Bank: “Nearly 1.1 billion people have moved out of extreme poverty since 1990. In 2013, 767 million people lived on less than $1.90 a day, down from 1.85 billion in 1990.”
Over ONE BILLION people have moved out of poverty since 1990. While that is huge, it isn’t as though one billion people have moved up to the middle class of America. Just for a point-of-reference, if you make $25,000 per year, you are in the top 2% of the entire planet in annual income.
Let that sink in for a moment.
While we have improved significantly, we have more work to do and the best people to do that are those who are coming after us and it is our job to teach them. Not to shame them or tell them, in a broad-brushing manner, that they suck. There are people in every generation that suck, but don’t make the minority the face of the majority—it isn’t a good look and it makes you look foolish.
So please, stop and think before you say the next generation is worse than our current one. The next generation is the one we ought to be building up, not tearing down.