Out with the old, in with the new. That’s always been the mantra, at least as far back as I can remember. Old things, old ways are constantly being improved upon or replaced with bigger, better, more convenient methods of doing things. Each generation thinks it knows more than the last, and in a way it does. Knowledge builds upon knowledge; technology upon technology. We would never have the cool things we have today if great inventors like Franklin, Edison, Tesla, et al hadn’t paved the way. It’s hard to imagine what a man like Edison could have done if he were living today with access to the scientific and technological foundation available now, a foundation to which he helped contribute while living in an age when people burned candles to see at night.
They may have lived simply, but our ancestors weren’t idiots. They might not have had as much ‘knowledge’ as we have, but they had intelligence, common sense, and a host of other qualities we are sorely lacking. I think today’s society lacks respect for our ancestors in part because of the world they lived in, a world where the knowledge base just hadn’t progressed to what it is now. Just because they rode in horse-drawn carriages and wore silly looking hats (still an improvement over powdered-wigs, wouldn’t you say?) doesn’t mean we should toss out everything they practiced and believed. In fact, the level of ‘common sense’ required back then just to survive was doubtless astronomically more than required now. Today, any idiot walking on two legs lives in a house with cable TV, Wi-Fi, and a Playstation 3 – bare minimum.
So let’s not toss the baby out with the bathwater. There are many qualities our ancestors had that are worth emulating. OK, throw out slavery and a few other misguided notions (take your pick), and we’re still left with a virtual cornucopia of virtues, all of which it seems they practiced better and more consistently than we do today. Let’s examine a few:
1.) Hard work – Name a job back then that wasn’t hard. From coal mining it old school (you know, with a real pick, shovel, and bucket – praying all the while that the toothpick trellises hold up the tunnel above you at least until the end of your shift) to working on the railroad when it really meant working ON the railroad (as in digging earth, hauling rock, and laying railroad ties by hand). Ever try to lift a railroad tie? I mean really, look at some of the pictures – black and white chronicles of pure unadulterated misery. These people started working at age 6 and retired when they keeled over dead. Today, compared to them, we hardly work. If we could regain and teach our kids even a fraction of that work ethic, we would all be better off.
2.) Thrift – If our ancestors knew how much debt the average American is in, how much debt the corrupt politicians have our COUNTRY in, they would roll over in their graves so hard the earthquake would probably end life as we know it. When Davy Crockett was in Congress, he once voted no on a relief bill for the widow of a naval officer, instead offering to donate a week of his own salary to her cause. Today, politicians have never met a cause they aren’t willing to spend other people’s money to remedy. Today, Americans must have the nicest of everything, even if it means going in debt to their eyeballs. Somehow I don’t think Grandma Walton would be proud.
3.) Preparation – Our ancestors were prepared for anything. The cold winters made sure of that. They would start growing as soon as the weather turned, then harvest and can in the Fall, putting enough food away for themselves and even a neighbor who might be in need, enough for the winter and beyond. Preparation was a way of life, because to not prepare could mean death. Today, granted, a cursory look at the grocery stores and Walmarts on every street corner might lead one to see little reason to prepare as our ancestors did. Most of us suffer from ‘normalcy bias,’ the assumption that since a disaster hasn’t happened, it will never happen. People not only underestimate the possibility of a disaster, but the effects as well. There are so many things that could disrupt the world as we know it – gas prices (what happens when the trucks stop running?), natural disasters, solar storms (imagine having no electricity for a week, a month… longer… what would you do?), war, food shortages, and countless more. Just because the world has hummed along the way it has for the last 70 years doesn’t mean it will continue indefinitely. If a disaster happened, the average American household wouldn’t last two weeks without having to go to the grocery store for food. We all could use a dose of our ancestors’ ‘prepper’ mindset.
4.) Honesty – George Washington couldn’t tell a lie. Today, try to name a politician who tells the truth. Still thinking? It’s not just the politicians. Lying is so much a part of our culture today that it’s hard to tell truth from fantasy. Long gone are the days when kids were taught to tell the truth ‘even if a hole swallows you up?’
5.) God-fearin’ – They were far from perfect, but back in ‘the day,’ people had a healthy respect for God. Then, most people attended church and, if they didn’t, they at least had their kids in Sunday School. Today, less than 1 in 5 Americans go to church on any given Sunday. We could do a book on how Christianity has gone from a way of life for most Americans to a maligned afterthought, often even blamed for much of society’s ills. Back then powerful preachers like Jonathan Edwards, John Wesley, and D.L. Moody led great revivals and stirred America’s conscience. Today mealy-mouthed tele-evangalists tickle ears and call good evil and evil good.
There are countless more. Were our ancestors better people or did they just live in a better culture, albeit a culture they themselves created by relying on Biblical principles? The culture they created and, in turn, created generations of those people is slowly being eroded, marginalized, attacked. Over the last two generations those who would see Western Civilization die have managed to replace the old culture with the decadent, self-serving, petty, materialistic shadow-culture we live in today.
Historically, these things tend to run in cycles. However, if we are to survive as a nation with God’s help we’ve got to turn this thing around. We can’t go back to those days, (nor would we want to – I, for one, enjoy running water and refrigeration!), but we can learn from a people who knew how to ‘do character’ right. With all that is in us, we want to teach our children to honor their ancestors and their ways. Maybe we can resurrect the culture, one family at a time.
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