“Children begin by loving their parents; after a time they judge them; rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.”
Irish writer Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) said it, but we really didn’t need him to tell us. Anyone who’s been a child or a parent knows it.
The only thing Wilde got wrong was that most of us eventually understand our parents and forgive them. It’s part of growing up.
When you’re a small child, your parents seem omniscient. They set your standards of what is real and what is right. As you get older, however, you realize that they don’t know everything. Sometimes they make mistakes. Sometimes they even do things that are wrong.
With that realization, we are bitterly disappointed. The people we believed were perfect turned out to be flawed and human. And like most disillusioned true believers, we react with anger. It’s the beginning of adolescent rebellion.
From believing that our parents were always right, we go to the opposite extreme of believing that they are always wrong. We think that they don’t know anything. They are vain, uncaring, dishonest, and evil. They are hypocrites who find fault with others (mainly us) but who don’t live by the high ideals they profess. Screams of “I hate you I hate you I hate you!” grace many such discussions between parents and their teenaged children.
Eventually, we grow out of our adolescent rebellion. We realize that we are just as flawed as our parents. As the years pass, we make plenty of mistakes. We sometimes fail to live up to our ideals. We sometimes hurt others. If we’re decent people, we regret all of it. We start to see our parents in a different light: a light that is kinder and more understanding.
We realize that if there are any perfect people on the planet, we’ll never meet one. They’re too rare. The rest of us are just trying to do our best, and all too often failing at it.
And in that moment, we forgive our parents.
We accept them with all their flaws and virtues, as the real people they are. We accept them as people who tried to do their best for us, even if they didn’t always get it right. And if we’re lucky, we love them for it.
I see the same thing happening to America on a national scale. Baby boomers were the first generation that never grew out of its adolescent rebellion. It was a rebellion not just against their parents, but against everything their parents respected and loved. A country. A culture. A history. A way of life.
All of those things were imperfect. The boomers’ parents admitted as much, but argued that they were more good than bad.
Such nuanced arguments could not be heard over the din of “I hate you I hate you I hate you!”
And since the parents themselves were increasingly troubled by the flaws in America, they didn’t come down hard on the boomers, as their own parents would have — and did — decades earlier.
As a result, many boomers never grew out of their adolescent rebellion. They never accepted their parents as good but flawed human beings. They never accepted America as a good but flawed country. They never grew up enough to understand. They never got past “I hate you I hate you I hate you!” That shaped their view of the world.
Then they went into government, teaching, and the news media. The story they told was derived from their arrested development. Instead of seeing America as a good country that was trying to correct its flaws, they saw it as an evil country that was defined by its flaws.
They taught their viewpoint to Millennials, many of whom believe as a result that anyone who disagrees with them is a “Nazi” and a legitimate target for violent attack.
If you live in a good country that is trying to correct its flaws, the sensible thing is to help it succeed.
If you live in an evil country that is beyond redemption, the sensible thing is to destroy it. Then you can try to replace it with the utopia you see in your head.
The fact that such a utopia has never existed on earth won’t bother you, because your teachers misled you with politically correct ideology instead of teaching you any actual history.
The fact that you support violence against people simply for having their own opinions won’t bother you, because you can’t distinguish between actions and ideas.
The fact that every society is imperfect because human beings are imperfect won’t bother you, because you never learned to think beyond your feelings at any given moment.
And your still-adolescent mentors, all of them now pushing ages 60, 70, or 80, will cheer you on as you help them destroy the civilization bequeathed to you by their hated and imperfect parents.
Dr. Freud, please call your office. Civilization’s discontents are reaching a critical stage.