A Little Fresh Air
It’s kind of a natural thing to think ourselves superior to those who have gone before us. I have done so in my early years, and have since thought better of it. Much better. In our current culture, our arrogance often stems from a tendency to confuse knowledge with wisdom, while the two have very little linkage indeed. We think that our superiority is because of our superior technology, forgetting that its foundation is entirely based on the work that has gone on before us, as well as forgetting that technology does not define a man or a woman, while character does. We love to assume that people of the past would be awestruck at viewing us as we wave our smartphones, admiring our progress as a society in every aspect. I wonder if they would be more likely than us to recognize the trade-offs we’ve made along the way, the giving up on one thing to get another. And I wonder if they would understand our outlooks as poorly as we understand theirs.
The goal of this post is also to dispel the universal assumption that historical photographic portraits are all stiffly posed with faces locked in a lifeless glare. It is certainly true that well prior to the turn of the last century, the purpose of a portrait was usually to convey that the subject had gravitas, and was a person of consequence. Smiles and grins were considered to make one look silly on such an important and expensive occasion, or like a practical joker instead of a person living a life of meaning and purpose. Today, a smile tends to evoke a very different response, as does the lack of one. But, as with the photo leading this post, one misses a lot when old photos are passed over because of assumptions.
The little girl above grew up to be a mother and grandmother. When I see this photo, besides the delight, I wonder if the lives we have built for ourselves today haven’t lost a lot in the transition from her time. We like to say that whatever time we’re looking at in the past was “a simpler time”, as if they had it easier then. You know, the Good Old Days. As you might guess, I don’t buy this wistful condescension. As memory serves and a little historical research reveals, you can pick nearly any point in time and find it immersed in a bath of changing circumstances, fallout, and stresses – all without the social safety nets that we take for granted today. I can’t recall any simpler times myself. There was always some challenge or turmoil going on. If there was greater simplicity, it hinged on the consequences of failure. The “modern problems” we like to think that we face, you know, the ones we’ve created for ourselves out of our “enlightenment”, have the same old causes as ever. But there’s no going back. As the late humorist Will Rogers once said, “Letting the cat outta the bag is a whole lot easier than putting it back.”
I guess what I’m saying is that when we look to the people of our past, we shouldn’t write them off wholesale because they had different worldviews and values than we do today. I have my own, but I’m also a believer in the claim that a person who cannot skillfully debate both sides of an issue does not really comprehend the issue. We don’t even care to find out why they believed as they did. We can’t be bothered, the result being that we merely grasp at justifications to support our emotional responses to issues. It’s easy to treat others with condescension when our own arrogance is based upon ignorance, something not in short supply even in our enlightened, modern times. We like to dismiss those of the past because of the alleged pressure to conform to societal standards, and yet while we’re doing that, we’re trying real hard to limit how we express our thoughts to meet the requirements of Political Correctness. Heck, many college students today claim to be traumatized by their exposure to viewpoints not matching their own, and actively seek to silence those nonconforming viewpoints by any means possible.
Nope, when we look into the past, we should look back with interest, seeking to learn, appreciate and exploit the common bonds that join us. We might be better off than if we propagandize merely to reinforce our own ill-considered agendas today. Asking “why?” is seldom a bad thing. I suppose that, as with anything else, it helps to emphasize what we have in common instead of obsessing over what divides us.
Addendum: I have not posted for awhile, as I made an encore appearance at the local heart center via the emergency room entrance. I’d come in thanks to increasing and now disastrous fatigue, while their interest (and billing opportunity) showed up on a Catscan as a potential clot swirling around one heart chamber like a sock in a front-loader Maytag washer. It could exit at any time. I was admitted and stayed five days before they got sick of my whining and whimpering over the frequent blood draws, and gave me the boot.
Pending final test results due in shortly, the moral seems to be that it is a mistake for me to treat the aftermath of my type of surgery as a form of physical training that should yield a steady progression of new levels of attainment that create the new minimum for the future. Big mistake, actually. It’s one of those things where the difference between attitude and reality quickly show their stark differences. Biofeedback, that signal that cautions that it’s probably a good time to stop or back off for now, has at least temporarily shorted out and does not work until the damage is as good as guaranteed. The end result mimics playing while hurt, which only makes things worse.
Me, I’ve always been mentally geared for the equivalent of endurance training, a kind of blend of touchy-feely and go-go-go. Push past the pain, and always push the boundaries to advance. This is my first exposure to something where the day’s baseline keeps changing markedly, and doing the usual can do about as much good as volunteering to get mugged in a dark alley. Oops. And, my mistake has probably cost me weeks of precious time, delaying my departure significantly. Fortunately, as I always claim to like learning new things, it is now my task to carefully get back up, look as happy as I can, and learn the fundamentals of this very different recovery style.
But I can’t complain too earnestly. If I had hit the road with that clot and/or my standard approach to recovering from injury, the chances are very good that, given the level and availability of competent, heart-specific medical help on the road, I could have fairly quickly wound up with a forced lifestyle change, to say the least. That’s something that a few of you readers know all too well. I think patience is one of those things you just want handed to you, rather than having to grow it on your own by trial and testing. It sure doesn’t come naturally!