By: Amie Wohrer.
We used to produce better humans. When things were simpler and less advanced and we were less “enlightened” than we are now, people were kinder, harder working, and heartier. A man’s word was important, and usually good. Women embraced decency and virtue, a far cry from today’s societal norms. So what has caused this moral decline? I don’t know exactly where we went wrong, but I have a couple of ideas.
Having been raised around members of the Greatest Generation, I am blessed to have known some of these better humans. My grandfather was my favorite of these. His name was Kenneth (Kenny) Raymond Boggs. He was born May 14, 1929 in Olive Hill, KY to Minnie and William Boggs. They were dirt poor, literally. Grandpa often talked about the fact that they had dirt floors in his childhood home. He told me stories about how on Saturday nights the aunts would make pies and other goodies and exchange them with relatives, and on Sunday when they got to come home after hours and hours of Sunday worship, his mom would make the best Sunday fried chicken anyone ever ate or “et” as he would say.
In the eighth grade, grandpa dropped out of school to put roofs on houses with his dad and brothers. When he was old enough, he enlisted in the Army, and was a cook during the Korean War. After marrying my grandmother Florence, he settled into married life and began working as a machinist at a factory.
Grandpa became liked and highly respected around the factory not only because of his friendly disposition, but because he was the best machinist and everyone knew it. His cuts were spot on and it seemed effortless. He naturally gravitated toward something he was good at, and he built a life and raised a family with it. The only thing he was taught how to be was a good human and a hard worker. Everything else was, kismet.
It seems that people like my grandfather are a dying breed, and I believe there are a few reasons for that. For one, the “institution” of poverty or struggle has changed. Being poor used to be seen as a challenge, a hurdle in the way of pursuing happiness. Suffering well was a skill, dare I say an art. Things like debt were avoided. People didn’t ask for financial help as often because they were embarrassed and because they didn’t want to owe anything to anyone. Good use was made of adversity. If you weren’t happy with your life you worked to make it better, and you didn’t complain about it. Managing your emotions was a popular discipline. These were strong people. And they didn’t know they were strong, they were just doing what was acceptable. There’s a line in an Avett Brothers song that says “I want to have pride like my mother has, and not like the kind in the Bible that turns you bad.” That’s what my grandpa’s generation had; the kind of pride that makes you good.
Another reason I think we produce lesser humans now is because God is frowned upon. In my grandpa’s time, even kids whose parents weren’t religious were a little afraid of the Big Guy. Simply put, accountability works and it makes us better. God used to be everywhere. He was in our schools, and widely recognized in music and on TV and in movies. On Good Friday, The United States of America stopped at noon for three hours. At Christmastime, gifts were purchased shortly before Christmas Day and Christmas trees were often brought home on Christmas Eve because it wasn’t entirely about the tree and the gifts. Families went to church on Sundays and kids had to shut up and be good or they’d answer to dad later. Presidents prayed real prayers, not just for show. Bibles looked used and worn.
My final reason for believing humanity is coming undone is that we’ve shamed shame. This is tied into our treatment of God and our lack of accountability, but shame is a different animal entirely. Being held to account is rooted in responsibility but shame is a more personal deterrent from careless living. It’s something that used to be feared. Long ago, reputations were important, and what we considered a good reputation a hundred years ago is vastly different from what constitutes one today. For example, young women were more likely to remain chaste until marriage and dressed modestly because their reputations were at risk otherwise and being considered “loose” was shameful. This had a sort of second-hand effect too because youngsters tend to do what they see their peers doing. And hormones raged back then just as strongly as they do today and maybe more because desires were more pent up, but as I mentioned earlier, emotions and wants weren’t our guides back then. Fear of shame and ill repute yielded a healthier society, and it protected us from ourselves.
I think our pursuit to eliminate all discomfort and make everyone feel included and safe has had a debasing effect. Our attempt to ensure that everyone is “OK” has in turn created a situation where nothing is ok anymore, and with everything old being touted as racist or misogynistic, I don’t know what humanity’s rescue plan looks like. What I do know, is that those of us who, whether through memories or stories, know how good things used to be, can continue to emulate that behavior and pass it down to younger generations in the hopes that our principles can be reset and the needle on our moral compasses can once again point to good.