I have a challenge for you.
In the next couple days, observe how many times anyone uses the language of “these days.” “These days” language alludes to the idea that in our modern times, things have gone to hell, whereas back in the day things were great. It’s the language of “they don’t make them like they used to.” It’s the language of the vast multitude of “Why Millennials Are Stupid Assholes” articles that seem to sprout up like weeds. It’s the language of “Make America Great Again.” It’s the language of original sin – that we fell from grace and are in a long, slow slide away from integrity, decency, and values. A belief that we are dirty, disgusting sinners and getting worse in every generation.
If you really listen, this belief is EVERYWHERE. And, in my mind, is perhaps the most destructive and demonstrably untrue beliefs we carry with us.
When we think that the world is getting worse and that we are corrupt, what does that do to possibility for a brighter future? What does that do to our motivation to actually get up and do something to make a change? It’s really just an excuse for cynicism and inaction.
Beyond that, when actually was this mystical time when things were so great? For the vast majority of human history and cultures (though certainly not all), slavery was a norm, women were more or less owned by men, men were told to not feel emotions, authoritarian regimes and dogmatic religions controlled everything, and people died of preventable disease left and right.
This belief that things were so great before just does map to any realistic portrayal of history. Yet we insist on its truth.
It’s almost as if people think that believing things are getting better would reveal them as naive or unconcerned about the state of the world. “If I think things are getting better, then I must not see pain and suffering in our world” we tell ourselves. This is not so. We can very easily be in awe of how far we’ve come, while still believing passionately that things can and should continue to evolve and progress.
Take a look. See how often this belief comes up in every day conversation. What function does it serve? Does this way of thinking best set us up for change?
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