Ah, the good old days. You know, back in the day, when kids didn’t sass, teachers were revered, neighborhoods were like villages, and the beat cop stopped by the porch for lemonade. The time before violence and fear was invented.
But hold your horses, before we get too nostalgic, are times really worse than they have ever been? Let’s step away from our televisions and trending topic feeds and take a look-see.
Consider the 1950s: The median family income was $28,000; life expectancy was 68 years (vs. 79 today); and tuberculosis, syphilis, whooping cough, measles, and polio were daily health threats. One reason for poorer health was lower-quality housing: about a third of houses still lacked decent indoor plumbing (compared with fewer than 2 percent today), and air conditioning was a rare luxury. There was no Heimlich maneuver; no CPR; no open-heart surgery; and no effective treatment for epilepsy, depressive disorders, or migraine headaches. Remember whiplash? There were no headrests, seat belts, or airbags in cars. The Korean War broke out, and 1.5 million American men were drafted to fight, and more than 36,000 died (five times the U.S. death toll in Afghanistan and Iraq). Women were excluded from the draft, but also from executive positions in industry and government, and there was just one woman U.S. senator in 1950. A decade before Selma and the victories of the civil rights movement, blacks across much of the country were disenfranchised, segregated, and discriminated against at every turn. Homosexuality was illegal.
There may have been prayer in school back in the day, but there were also lynch mobs, communist witch hunts, segregation, and open anti-Semitism. There was child abuse and spousal abuse—but it went mostly unreported, unnoticed, and unpunished—and it was OK to bar women and people of color from various professions and to pay them far less than their due in any work situation.
The 1960s kicked off with the assassination of the U.S. president and ended with the Vietnam war. This month, 50 years ago (July 15, 1966 ), a Chicago drifter named Richard Speck broke into a Chicago townhouse and killed eight student nurses—women he had never met. According to Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich, “Women today recall how as little girls they practiced hiding under their beds so that when the killer came, they would be ready.” The same night the nurses were murdered, six Chicago policeman were shot during the race riots on the West Side. The civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. was in town and was being criticized for his remarks on police brutality. Sound familiar?
Today, people are living longer with more real income and more security than they did a year ago, a decade ago, or at any time in history. Global personal safety is at a record high. The number of people killed in wars last year was at most a few thousand—a tragedy, but only for a minuscule portion of the world’s population—unlike the tens of millions killed every year during the world wars of last century. Violent crime and murder rates are declining almost everywhere in the world.
There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America. They’re being killed less and getting hit by cars less. Missing children statistics are way down. In fact, the likelihood of any of these scenarios happening is infinitesimally small.
Here’s a bit of news: life has never been simple. The good times and the bad times have been parts of every decade since the beginning of time. There has always been struggle and strife. In 2016, we don’t have a monopoly on problems and fears. And despite the terrible things that are happening in our world right now, we live in a world that is safer, healthier and fairer than the one many of us were born into.
In my next post, I’ll write about some of the ways we can each take action and do much more than just thrive. My first tip would be to tune out the news and tune in to all the amazing and wonderful things that are happening around us. You won’t have to look far to find amazing and wonderful, but you will have to look further than your television news and Facebook/Twitter feed.
Odd Loves Company,
P.S. If you believe the good old days were good because black people knew their place, homesexulaity was kept in the closet, and white men made all the country’s decision while women stayed firmly behind them, then that is a whole other conversation. One I probably won’t have.
P.S.S. When I speak to the best of times being now—That does not mean that I don’t notice or care about the tragedies happening around me. I care. A lot. It does mean, I refuse to let those tragedies define the world I live in.