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...Perspective Matters (or...Millennials Are Not All Bad)

Updated: Apr 28, 2020

So, I hardly ever get on Facebook. In fact, I completely deleted my profile about 6 months ago, and started from scratch to get rid of a lot of the noise that inhabited my feed. However, as we are in the beginnings of what will likely be a long period of social distancing, I find myself checking it out a little more often.

It reminds me of a time, a few years ago, before the purge, of an article/anecdote that several of my Facebook "friends" reposted. I don't know where it originated, or even if it's true, but I have a pretty good idea why it was created:

Checking out at the grocery store recently, the young cashier suggested I should bring my own grocery bags because plastic bags weren’t good for the environment. I apologized and explained, “We didn’t have this green thing back in my earlier days.” The clerk responded, “That’s our problem today. Your generation did not care enough to save our environment for future generations.” She was right about one thing — our generation didn’t have the green thing in “Our” day. So what did we have back then…? After some reflection and soul-searching on “Our” day here’s what I remembered we did have…. Back then, we returned milk bottles, soda bottles and beer bottles to the store. The store sent them back to the plant to be washed and sterilized and refilled, so it could use the same bottles repeatedly. So they really were recycled. But we didn’t have the green thing back in our day. We walked up stairs, because we didn’t have an escalator in every store and office building. We walked to the grocery store and didn’t climb into a 300-horsepower machine every time we had to go two blocks. But she was right. We didn’t have the green thing in our day. Back then, we washed the baby’s diapers because we didn’t have the throw-away kind. We dried clothes on a line, not in an energy gobbling machine burning up 220 volts — wind and solar power really did dry our clothes back in our early days. Kids got hand-me-down clothes from their brothers or sisters, not always brand-new clothing. But that young lady is right. We didn’t have the green thing back in our day. Back then, we had one TV, or radio, in the house — not a TV in every room. And the TV had a small screen the size of a handkerchief (remember them?), not a screen the size of the state of Montana. In the kitchen, we blended and stirred by hand because we didn’t have electric machines to do everything for us. When we packaged a fragile item to send in the mail, we used wadded up old newspapers to cushion it, not Styrofoam or plastic bubble wrap. Back then, we didn’t fire up an engine and burn gasoline just to cut the lawn. We used a push mower that ran on human power. We exercised by working so we didn’t need to go to a health club to run on treadmills that operate on electricity. But she’s right. We didn’t have the green thing back then. We drank from a fountain when we were thirsty instead of using a cup or a plastic bottle every time we had a drink of water. We refilled writing pens with ink instead of buying a new pen, and we replaced the razor blades in a razor instead of throwing away the whole razor just because the blade got dull. But we didn’t have the green thing back then. Back then, people took the streetcar or a bus, and kids rode their bikes to school or walked instead of turning their moms into a 24-hour taxi service. We had one electrical outlet in a room, not an entire bank of sockets to power a dozen appliances. And we didn’t need a computerized gadget to receive a signal beamed from satellites 2,000 miles out in space in order to find the nearest pizza joint. But isn’t it sad the current generation laments how wasteful we old folks were just because we didn’t have the green thing back then? Please post this on your Facebook profile so another selfish old person who needs a lesson in conservation from a smarty-pants young person can add to this

Rather than fire off a response to this, annoyed by its hidden agenda, I decided I'd share it with my AP US History students, and allow the group of budding historians to take a crack at it. Aside from the glaring non-use of paragraphs. They had some really astute observations/riposts. I've curated the ones that dealt with the author's contention that there was no "Green Movement", and summarized them in my words, for a reply. Here it is:

They also had leaded gasoline, factories spewing poison in every city, deforestation at an alarming rate, the Cuyahoga River bursting into flames, and major lakes having large areas where you’d get sick if you went swimming.

…People didn’t “recycle” back then because they were concerned with the environment, they did it because there were no feasible disposable alternatives at the time, which the habits of the populace, in your argument, would’ve certainly taken advantage of…

…Those single TV’s and radios that the author is extolling? They used more electricity alone than the gadgets we use today combined, because we’ve found ways to make them way more efficient…

…People haven’t used refillable pens in any large way for 50 years. Same goes for refillable razors. And to suggest that cooking was somehow better in the past because the people doing the cooking (note: almost always women) had to spend way more time preparing food with all that chopping and stirring and blending instead of, oh, having careers, or expanding their minds, or spending time with family, is frankly insulting…

...The world was not better in the past, not for anyone. The only reason it might seem like it is, because, the past you remember is your childhood, when you weren’t having to deal with the crappy things you would as an adult. And at some point, your kids will talk about how awesome things were back in the old days, by which they’ll mean their childhood, and you may be tempted to strangle them as they recall a world you don’t remember. Don’t do it. Look at your grandkids (if you have them) and think about how much better the world they’re living in now is, compared to the one you were an adult in. And then roll with the changes…

...And BTW, there was a Green movement – Ben Franklin petitioned the ban on dumping by tanneries 35 years before the American Revolution. Transcendentalists wrote about it in the 1800’s. Teddy Roosevelt introduced many laws as president that became the first real conservation legislation in the early 1900’s. President Wilson started the National Park Service. The ’50’s and 60’s were the first real boom of the environmental movement. – People just didn’t care…

...It’s fun to wax nostalgic about “better times”, but it helps when the history is correct and honest.

Also, something that hadn't occurred to me, my students found it amusingly ironic that the anonymous author spent so much time railing against modern conveniences and the technology that facilitated them, only to implore everyone to forward the story to as many people as possible via Facebook. Heh.

We ruffled some feathers of people who claimed to be merely having fun, taking a trip down memory lane. The kids understood exactly the point of the story. They, too, were having fun. Understand that as an AP US History teacher with kids who like to argue, it was simply too hard for me to pass up. By now, these kids have graduated college, and/or are firmly set in their adult lives. They're on the young end of the Millennial Generation, and I think they get a bad rap.

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