I am not an authority and I am not a pundit, but I am a voter and here’s what I am thinking: During the first Democratic debate Kamala Harris called out Joe Biden. She was eloquent in personalizing what bussing meant to her as a little girl growing up in a segregated California school district in the 1970’s; Joe Biden was defensive and claimed he was misunderstood. Points were made, points were lost. But really, what was gained?
The culture is what we live in. It is our atmosphere, what we breathe, walk around in without even knowing it is there, like the air: odorless, colorless, without a tell most of the time. But occasionally we get a whiff of something, or see something and we take note. Notes. Information. Which leads to new thinking, and eventually a change in culture. You see it in child rearing sometimes. Breast feeding gave way to bottle feeding in the fifties, when entrepreneurs advertised it as not only nutritionally superior but also culturally enlightened. Then, when nutrition in pregnancy became a focus and more pregnant women were healthier, studies said that breast feeding was indeed better (and again, more enlightened). If you grew up in the fifties, chances are you were bottle fed; in the seventies and eighties, breast-fed. Nowadays, in this politically correct moment, the main point is that it is a choice.
And remember “spare the rod and spoil the child?” In the early part of the 20thcentury spanking was considered a parent’s sacred duty, not a blessed relief after your kid threw a tantrum in Target. Then it was considered a parent’s version of a tantrum and a no-no. Now I think they call it abuse.
The culture we grow up in, our atmosphere, is surrounded by a cage with invisible bars made up of the current givens. And it takes something–an anomaly, an egregious act, a whiff– to make the bars visible, to make us contemplate life outside the bars and then act to make it happen.
Slavery. De-segregation. Civil rights. Reproductive Rights. LGBTQ rights. Unbelievable that we ever believed what we believed when we don’t believe it anymore. But it took someone to get a whiff, get a glimpse, make an effort to break through those bars.
When people hark back to the culture as it once was, it is either for perspective or nostalgia. It is important to be sure which. The longer someone lives the more the culture will have changed, and his actions and beliefs will have been right or wrong many times over. What is the point of referring to something with the advantage of hindsight? Will it help change things going forward? (That’s perspective.) Or is it for the limited advantage of indicting someone for having had the “wrong” view in light of today’s “right” view or praising someone for the opposite? (That’s nostalgia.)
If we take judgment out of it, the perspective we gain can benefit everyone. But that means no boast and no blame. Take the raw material of experience and use it to enrich all.