What We’ve Done

I read an article the other day talking about the younger generation(s).  You know the ones I’m talking about: the stories that complain about how millennials and/or gen-z’ers are living with family more than ever before.  Normally I hear and see so many shallow, pointless stories like these that they don’t even register.  It’s just the same old stuff, put out over and over by lazy editors and even lazier writers.

But there was one random occurrence that brought this story to the front of my mind: at right about the same time I heard a radio ad for a retirement home.  This ad featured a couple of people complaining about how hard and time-consuming and expensive it was to take care of their parents as age set in.

I had to stop and think for a bit about the hypocrisy and insanity of it all: WHEN THE HELL DID WE FORGET THE CONCEPT OF FAMILY?!

The world is about more than just “me”.  It has to be about more, because the only alternative is that infamously savage life: nasty, brutish and short.  The subtext of both article and ad was the same: no one “normal” would ever want to care for aging parents, or help out emerging young adults.

For the vast majority of human history the important unit was not the individual, but rather the family.  More than that, it was the extended family.  Extended across generations and branches far more than we Americans like to think about in this day and age.

Honestly, we’re the outliers in this whole thing.

It is only in the last 100 years or so that the restrictive, internally focused and exclusionary concept of the “nuclear family” took such strong hold.  That concept that dictates a kid leave the house as soon as possible to start “his/her own family”, that says you’re on your own as soon as you do leave.  Worse, it adds the unspoken concept that family is something merely to be endured, or to be exploited, rather than a whole greater than the sum of its parts.

Don’t get me wrong: there is a time and a place for the needs of the individual to take precedence, but surely that does not have to be the totality?  Surely the world is not a zero sum game, and the success of an individual can and does benefit the family as a whole?

That long example of human history I mentioned?  It tells us the resources of a family (not just money, but also influence, standing, relationships, knowledge, etc…) were the property of the family itself, not the individual members.  No, not even the individual who was the “head”.  Everything was a tool to ensure the family prospered and survived.

It’s alien to us nowadays, but the family really did carry a sense of caretaking, and of honoring the generations before and the generations yet to come.  Things like: 3, 4 or even 5 generations sharing a farm/company…great-grandkids helping to care for the old ones when life gets heavy…the realities and struggles of life shared between cousins, not just as updates on Facebook…that list can go on for a long, long time…

Instead we now have this vision of “one man (or woman) alone”.  We hold to the vision – venerate it, even – of leaving your family behind and “striking out on your own”, then have the temerity to wonder why the world is falling apart around us?

I think we can all agree that our society has problems – many problems – but the realization we never seem to get to is that WE’RE RESPONSIBLE.  All of us: old and young, prosperous and poor, influential and powerless, we all played our role in getting to where we are now.  We changed the rules, we taught the lessons, we created the messages, and now we are reaping what we sowed.

I’ve mentioned before that it doesn’t matter to me if you’re liberal or conservative…or even if, like me, you’re standing off to one side with a beer and a pretzel and a puzzled frown.  The only thing I care about is how you live your life.  Well, this is about how you live your life.  If you want to make things better, to help “fix” things, then the place to start is the very concept upon which all of human society is built: the family.

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