Semi View: Are things always getting worse or do we just think so?
When I wrote my first column in January 2008 I had no idea what the year would bring. As we begin this year, it seems we are facing new challenges, ones we didn't even imagine a year ago. I admit I worry a lot about what the future holds.
However, a book I have been reading recently has helped me realize that from year to year and decade to decade, the things we face as individuals and as a country haven't changed as much as we may think.
For instance consider these quotes:
"I don't know what the world is coming to; people didn't used to do that way; things were different when I was young."
Or perhaps this?
"One problem ... was a threatened shortage in gasoline. Altho (sic) there is a present abundance, scientists and chemists have for years been trying to find a substitute, for they believe that we cannot go on forever using gasoline in ever increasing quantities without coming at last to the end of the supply."
"People used to have time to live and enjoy themselves, but there is no time any more for anything, but work, work, work."
All these things -- the world "going from bad to worse," the shortage of gasoline and energy sources and no time for anything but work -- are all worries we are struggling with in 2009.
But the truth is Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote these words in 1920 and 1921, following World War I. They are included in the book "Laura Ingalls Wilder, Farm Journalist," which features columns she wrote for "Missouri Ruralist Magazine" from 1911-1924, several years before she wrote the now famous "Little House" books.
Another thing we hear about (especially around the first of the year) is America's habit of overeating. Today we often blame restaurants, with their large portions and "Supersized menus," but apparently we were overeating long before there was a McDonalds.
"With the holidays safely past, it is a good time to make resolutions not to overeat. It is easy to do so, just after eating too much of too many good things. We do eat too much! Everyone says so! But we keep right on eating."
Wilder wrote that Jan. 1, 1922. In that article she went on to tell about the people of Albania who considered it proper etiquette to leave a great deal of food on their plates.
"In Albania it is not good manners to show eagerness for food," she quoted a guide as saying. "Albanians are not greedy."
Here are some more examples of "the more things change the more they stay the same."
"There is a movement in the United States today, wide-spread and very far reaching in its consequences. People are seeking after a freer, healthier, happier life. They are tired of the noise and dirt, bad air and crowds of the cities and are turning longing eyes toward the green slopes, wooded hills, pure running water and health giving breezes of the country." (Feb. 18, 1911)
I don't know about you, but I thought "bad air" and dirt in the cities was a relatively new phenomenon, along with people wanting to move to the country.
Apparently our financial situation is also not new to our country. We hear about the "great depression" but that wasn't the first time we had failing banks.
"We have been doing a great deal of howling over the high prices we have to pay and comparatively low prices we get and we should do more than cry aloud about it, but we could have suffered worse in those good old times after the civil war when the coarsest of muslin and calico cost 50 cents a yard and banks failed over night, leaving their worthless money in circulation." (June 15, 1921)
Now we are also hearing a lot about American carmakers and manufacturers who don't make products "like they used to." Apparently that complaint too is not a new concept.
"We find in the goods we buy, from farm implements to clothing, that the work of making them is carelessly and slightingly done. Many carpenters, blacksmiths, shoemakers, garment makers and farm hands do not care how their work is done just so quitting time and paycheck comes."
There are some who talk about going back to the "good old days" of farming, but perhaps, as Wilder wrote, they should realize: "Distance lends enchantment to the view ... Youth ever gazes forward while age is inclined to look back. And so older persons think things were better when they were young."
Even though she had no idea what new inventions we would have, Wilder knew that going into the future was better than looking back to the "good old days."
"Love and service, with a belief in the future and expectation of better things in the tomorrow of the world is a good working philosophy; much better than, 'in olden times-things were so much better when I was young.' For there is no turning back nor standing still; we must go forward, into the future, generation after generation toward the accomplishment of the ends that have been set for the human race."
But, while we're going forward into 2009, I think it is important to note that Wilder's advice from the past is still very relevant today.
"The real things of life that are the common possession of us all are of the greatest value; worth far more than motor cars or radio outfits; more than lands or money; and whole store of these wonderful riches may be revealed to us by such a common, beautiful thing as a wild sunflower." (November 1, 1923)
So with this in mind I for one am going to try to worry less in 2009 and instead focus more on the "real things of life," the things we've had all along: the beauty of the country landscape covered in a white snowfall, the innocence of a newborn calf and the beauty of a wild sunflower.