Episode 370 (055) - Is the World Better Off?
“The older generation really messed up this world. When we get older, when we get some younger people elected to office, we will straighten things out. We will leave this a much better world than we found.” Those were thoughts I had in my younger days. I read about the world wars. I read about centuries of war, slavery, caste systems, public lynching’s, poverty, concentration camps, and nuclear bombs. I looked at pictures of world leaders. They were all old white men. Why did they fail us? And then I remember clearly thinking that, “the world will be different when we grow up.” That was in the 1950s.
This is retirement talk. I’m Del Lowery.
Over 50 years have gone by and those old white men that made decisions seem to still be there. The pictures of world leaders seem to never change; bald heads, white hair and dressed in dark suits. They still sit in positions of power. They wave at the cameras, board airplanes and live in splendor. They dine with other people of power. Make the front page of the papers daily and control billions of dollars. Now they are of my generation. They were supposed to make the world a better place to live.
What happened? Is the world a better place today than it was a generation or two ago? The quick, easy answer is, “No. Not in any way. We still have massive problems." The list is long. Of course we can’t really know if we are better or worse unless we can compare the way it was with the way it is.
I remember when the big clock of destruction that measured how close we were to a nuclear holocaust was set at 20 seconds. Now it is a matter of minutes. That is no small feat. We were on the verge of nuclear war. Children were taught to, ‘duck and cover’. People built bomb shelters. No denying, nuclear war would have been catastrophic in a dimension that the world has never seen. Well, it never happened. Do we credit the new generation with this accomplishment that makes life still possible? That is an immeasurable achievement. We need to keep this change in mind. I’d like to pause for just a moment and enjoy the thought that nuclear war did not happen. Some generation should get credit. Some people are responsible. Shall we declare an International holiday?
Of course we can claim other victories - especially in the area of health care and technological innovations; fancy things ranging from penicillin and statins to refrigerators. I take one little pill each day and one shot of B12 each month. Without either, I would be dead. It is considered a small thing medically; yet without these small things I would not be enjoying my retirement. Many of us live because of similar achievement. The list would be long.
When I went through high school there were no girl athletics - no basketball, track, tennis, golf, volleyball, etc. Imagine. It seems so cruel by today’s standards. I recall the day in the late 60s when some young high school girls wore pants to school. They were herded into a single room; a principle stood guard. Their dress was, “unacceptable” Parents were called. Kids were sent home to change. The next day the students came again dressed in pants. The school relented. Speaking of schools and women; Sandra Day O’Conner, Supreme Court Justice, graduated near the tope of her class at Stanford Law School. The best job she could get when she graduated was as a legal secretary. Decisions were made and the world changed, not only in athletics and dress, but in so very many ways.
I remember occasionally seeing another child about my age that I had never before seen in my small town. Theywere kept hidden in their homes because they had disabilities. They were shut out of schools and society. Families were ashamed. And then came the civil rights movement and the inclusion of these people in schools. Special education became the norm. How important was that? I can only imagine how much this has meant to millions of individuals; people with names, people with mothers, brothers, sisters; people with lives to be lived. Did our leaders do something right?
In the early 60s Michael Harrington wrote a book about poverty entitled, “The Other America”. The plight of the poor was exposed. The Poverty program was launched. I recall organizing and launching the first Head Start Program in Buchanon County, Iowa in 1967. I asked school principles and religious leaders the names and addresses of low income people living in this rural county. “There are none here”, was the standard response; “None in this town”. “It’s a fine thing you’re doing, but we don’t have any poor folks in this town”. We filled six classes the first summer. The invisible poor were found. Programs were begun. The entire country started to recognize this need. Once again, some people made some good decisions.
There are many examples of the way our world has changed. Indeed, we have lots of major problems. But the world is a better place in some ways. We need to recognize it as we face new problems that seem insurmountable.
One last change to mention: we live 11 years longer now that we did in 1950; all the more time for retirement.
This is retirement talk.