I grew up in a different world populated with a different culture to that of my children. It’s not simply because of such superficial change agents as the internet or mobile phones.
Yes, the world does seem faster and I do sometimes wonder how we ever survived without google as our immediate, ever present brain.
No, there is something more significant than all this. Something where the ramifications will be far deeper than anyone can yet imagine.
My “formative” years were the 70s and 80s. My youngest daughter is 22 and her formative years were this century. Both periods have significant world changing technologies. We all know what these are, but it’s the cultural differences that I want to talk about.
I grew up believing in a whole list of institutions that my daughter does not.
What are the differences?
I grew up believing in the Church and the goodness of Priests. I was an alter boy who, as a 10 year old, would race to Church in the dark of the morning. I enjoyed helping Father Paul and Father David say Mass to a crowd who couldn’t sleep or thought they needed the help of religion to get through the day.
I grew up believing in the law and the fairness of Police Officers who I was told deserved our respect.
I grew up being told to respect Politicians and the democratic process that kept us free and involved in the governing of the country.
I grew up believing doctors were conscientious human beings who had a God-Like power to save lives.
I grew up worshiping the power of the flickering screen. A portal through which I watched the heroics of Gods. I was taken in by the magic. I still remember the actor I met. He had played the role of a violent, evil man. He had scared the hell out of me. I was introduced and was so frightened about being in his presence. As I spoke with him, I discovered he was a gentle and wonderful man and we laughed about my memories and how they had formed my view him.
“I saw the series recently”, he said “and that guy even scared me!”
I had never expected to see a difference between the persona I saw on the screen and the one I met many years later. The idea of the actor had become the man. There was no difference.
My generation was able to elevate mere mortals to Gods who lived on a different plane. Yes, we treated them like Gods and they acted with all the hubris and entitlement expected of a God.
But what my daughter has discovered is that they are human, very human after all. And this new belief is the big difference between my daughter’s age and mine.
However, if you no longer believe in, or trust the institutions built to keep us together as a culture, what do you believe in? If the Priest, the Lawyer, the Policeman, the Actor, the Doctor, the Teacher, the Bank Manager, the Journalist, the Politician, the Sports person, lose our respect, who can we turn to? Who do we look up to? Who are our heroes? Who do we pray to? Who do we reach out for in the dark?
What makes humans unique is our ability for faith and passion to keep driving us forward. Even for an atheist like me, I believe in the power of faith. I have to, you see without faith you have cynicism. And a world built on cynicism is not a healthy one. It’s a dangerous one.
Art, innovation, new thinking, does not thrive during cynical times, only fear, distrust, and hate. Lies thrive touted as truths.
So what do I tell my children? I think our culture is at the beginning of major change. What that change will be I have no idea. The culture of trust that was abused by the people we elevated to Gods has come tumbling down.
What on earth will take its place?