It is customary for older people to complain about the younger generation and to wonder what in the world has gone wrong with these kids. I do my share of the complaining, especially when young people resort to violence and beat up teachers.
Columns of this type always produce a lively response from readers. However, there is seldom a new idea or a constructive suggestion in these letters. For the most part, we older people do little more than wring our hands and deplore the situation.
Today we have an exception to this pattern. A letter from Robinson Newcomb strikes me as worth thinking about. Newcomb writes:
"I think you have missed an important point about current youthful behavior. When you and I grew up, we were needed.
"I had to plant potatoes, hoe the garden, shell peas, mow the lawn, wash clothes and work for an education. I had to ride 11 miles to high school on a bicycle. Others walked to school, although probably not as far.
"We took all this in our stride. We knew we were needed and wanted. And we grew up expecting to contribute our part to society -- not to tear it down.
"I wonder if we would not be better off today if we had fewer laborsaving devices. If the kids today had to wash dishes as we had to, sweep the floors, hang out the clothes and join together to keep the alley clean, perhaps they, too, would feel needed and useful. In those days if the road was bad in front of our house, we got out and filled the holes. We didn't wait for the city or the county to do everything for us."
Robinson, we have so thoroughly botched the job of raising our children that I'm ready to listen to any theory that's presented to me, and yours seems to make as much sense as any.
It may very well be that you and I accepted responsibility and discipline at an early age because life was more difficult in those days. Everybody had his own load to tote. From childhood on, work and responsibility were our natural state. When our elders told us to do something, we did it. We saw conformity and obedience all around us. More important, we saw the need for conformity and obedience. So we conformed and we obeyed.
One survived in a hostile environment by cooperating with his relatives and friends. And it was easy to believe the enjoinder, "If you want to eat, you've got to work." The evidence was all around us.
Life is easier today, and the need for conformity is not as evident. People eat whether they work or not. The assigned task that our generation accepted as a necessary and normal burden is often rejected as an unnecessary "hassle" by today's young people. If you ask them to share the load they say, "Get off my back." They have never been required to plant or hoe or weed, so how can we blame them for assuming that they can go through life just smelling the flowers?
I think Robinson's idea is sound. Young people would probably accept discipline and responsibility much more readily if we could show them the need for these qualities and restore a sense of participation and selfesteem to them. But surely there is a better way to accomplish this than by going back to scrub-boards and brooms and hand-churned butter. The Gay Nineties are gone forever, and we'd better begin learning to make the best of the Sappy Seventies. ADD DEFINITIONS
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Don Epperson's neighbors are very strict with their kids. "They won't let their oldest child go to the supermarket wearing hair curlers, and they won't let his sister go that way, either." LEGISLATIVE NEWS
Bob Orben notes that Congress is really trying to expedite debate on the Panama Canal Treaty. "They now have an express line for senators with eight amendments or less." ADD SIGNS
Herm Albright reports there's a bumper sticker that says, "I Am Neither For Nor Against Apathy." VAGRANT THOUGHT
The United States thinks the way to be a peacemaker is to sell arms to both sides. If we don't win the Nobel Peace Prize, maybe we'll at least get the Pulitzer for fiction.