Are we turning into our parents?
That’s an oft-heard question in books and movies and other forms of pop culture these days, the answer to which causes all manner of reaction that I believe is universally driven from one generation to another.
As a parent and, lately, a grandparent, I can attest that the very inexplicable observations I heard from my parents’ lips are now crossing my own. And as much as I didn’t understand what they were talking about — which was their attempt to explain that they didn’t know what we were talking about — I do now.
And that is why I feel bad for what they had to go through trying to do what was best for the next generation, and the next. I believe, however, that my generation has a significant advantage over the previous one.
We should know better.
When my parents — and millions of other parents in the 1940s and ’50s — emerged from World War II and the Great Depression, they practically had a whiteboard in front of them onto which they would draw their futures. They had made the world safe for democracy and defeated the most malicious menace to humanity in generations. They were the envy of the rest of the world and lived in that one place on the planet where everyone else wanted to live and follow their dreams.
Did we have our problems? Of course, but we also had the determination of a free country and a society built upon the understanding that if you worked hard, played by the rules and, yes, got a bit lucky here and there, that your kids and theirs could live a blessed life.
It was called the American dream.
Because of that Greatest Generation, there are far fewer secrets to life and many more road maps toward a brighter future available for anyone who takes the time to read the writings on the wall. That doesn’t mean life will get easier, it just means that there are fewer giant obstacles in our way or detours that could be world threatening.
At least, that is what it should mean.
Lately, however, I am not so sure because history — at least through my parents’ words being uttered by parents two generations later — is being repeated. The bad part of history!
Spoiler alert — this is not about politics. If you get to the end and think it is, re-read.
I can remember the hushed words spoken around my house — hushed so the kids couldn’t hear and, therefore, wouldn’t be unduly concerned — during the time of the Cuban missile crisis when nuclear war with the Soviet Union was within the grasp of two world leaders who could miscalculate at any given moment. The fear in the words I did hear did not convey uncertainty about the United States’ ability to emerge victorious, but they did express concern about the future of the newest generation of Americans who might never see another dawning day.
I also remember the life-saving drills we practiced regularly during school so that if the worst did happen, at least the schoolchildren would be safe. Our drills consisted of getting under our desks and away from the windows.
That would keep us safe from a nuclear attack by the Soviets!
Last week when a “this is not a drill” ICBM attack warning went out across the Hawaiian Islands, I thought of those early days of my youth. And when I heard the concerns of 21st century parents as they described what they did with their own children — huddled in bathtubs and holed up in windowless rooms in their homes — I relived the fear in my own parents’ voices about what would happen to civilization.
Pushing the wrong button, a horrendous mistake, and whoops have no place in today’s world when it comes to nuclear war. The panic that people must have felt, the anxiety they still feel and will always live with because of that awful day, are emotions and concerns that should have no place in 21st century societies.
And yet, here we are.
And then, there are mudslides in communities made much deadlier because forest fires prepared the ground to do its worst. Mudslides! Not in 2018 and not when we know so much about how to avoid them.
And, yet, we are still counting the casualties, young and old.
I know one thing. When our parents understood that nuclear war could really kill millions of people and environmental disasters could do the same, they did something about it. When they learned that arsenic in our drinking water was not good for children and other living things, they did something about it. And when they learned that forest fires, tornadoes and hurricanes became far more powerful and deadly because climate change made them that way, they tried to reduce the affects of such change.
But not anymore. All that is changing as we speak. And as we read from one tweet to another — tweets meant to distract us from the dismantling of the rules and regulations that were written to reduce the chances of total devastation — we should understand that we have the power to not be so much worse and so much more helpless than our parents.
We also have the power to do nothing and just allow the worst to happen.
It is a simple choice.
We can choose ignorance and a willful desire to advance our own well-being at the expense of our neighbors and this place we call home, or we can be the people our parents worked so hard to enable us to become.
Yes, the choice is ours. We don’t have to ask the same bewildering, unanswerable questions our parents used to ask at seemingly existential moments. History has taught us the right answers.
No, all we have to do is turn into our parents. They rarely ever had a problem doing the right thing for the right reasons.
Brian Greenspun is editor, publisher and owner of the Sun.