A dash of youthful optimism

Aug. 23, 2001
Call me an optimist, but I believe the world, and especially America, isn't as bad as everyone says.

Every time I read or hear a complaint about how things today are so much worse than they used to be, or how today's young people are so rude and inconsiderate, I get a little sad. Then I get mad. I just don't believe the world we live in is terrible or that things were so much better "back in the old days."

So how great were things in the old days? People left their doors unlocked at night. Children were seen and not heard. Most people trusted politicians and the government. Customer service was common and important. Elvis was risque. Most women didn't have to work outside the home. And a plane ride was an occasion to dress up.

On the other hand, schools, cities, and drinking fountains in the South were segregated. Mentally and physically disabled people were hidden away and not talked about. Advertisers controlled the media and invented the unrealistic "perfect housewife." Russia was the enemy.

My mom and her friends always point out how fortunate I am. When they were young, they weren't encouraged to go to college, live on their own, or have careers. They were expected to graduate from high school, find jobs, and then husbands. Of course there were women who chose otherwise, but I know that had I been of that era, an engineering degree wouldn't have been an option. And so I'm grateful for growing up in the postfeminist age, where I have a choice.

Anyone who complains about the morality of young people, probably doesn't deal with them on a regular basis. Such complainers get caught up in the media hype of crime and violence, or have had one or two bad experiences with young, ill-trained salespersons and assume all of them have no respect or manners.

But the well mannered, articulate young people far outnumber the bad, and statistics show it. Volunteer groups like Americorps and Habitat for Humanity are filled with young people. Teen pregnancies are the lowest they've been since they started tracking them in the Sixties. Over the last decade, violent crime is down. School violence, despite the Columbines and similar aberrations you hear about in the media, is down. More kids than ever go to college. This generation is much more tolerant of those of different color, ethnicity, sexual preference, and religion. And I recently read a survey that said women today spend an average of 25 minutes a week more quality time with their children than women did in the Sixties.

No, things are not the same as they were in the good old days. And no, they're not perfect. They never were, and never will be. Times change, but people haven't. So get to know the neighborhood kid with green hair. She might just be a decent person.

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