Revisionism.

One of the advantages of hanging out with KidsOfToday© as opposed to looking at them from a safe distance is that it cuts down on a hell of a lot of historical revisionism. I mean, I’m still perfectly capable of turning my life upside down and sideways on, but the days when my definition of “interesting” was “Oh God, oh God, we’re all gonna die” are mostly over. Almost certainly. I think. Young’uns, though, they’re still at it. They run around as if the really ‘interesting’ parts of my life had not magically converted themselves into their own experience set. They seem to actually need to learn by doing, like wut I did, and my mother before me, and her mother before her, and so on ad infinitum. They carry on as if the relevancy of certain lessons was affected by the world around them; as if the skills and knowledge that met my needs didn’t meet theirs, solely because the world they live in is different in many key respects. They also behave as if certain hurdles in life (negotiating career options, securing access to basic survival and security resources, finding a mate, dealing with Bad People) were things you actually have to do; as if they were real hurdles that really exist in real life, rather than the unfortunate fallout of the twerpery of young age.

It’s loathsome, really: young people insist on living their own lives as if they consisted of a series of steps taken one after the other, often with only partial knowledge of where the entire journey is going to take them (or, even more iniquitously, with a different destination in mind from the one I followed). And when they approach a new situation, they do so without knowing how it’s going to go down; as if the fact that I know how my stories ended didn’t magically convert itself into guaranteed endings for theirs.

If it sound like I’m being ridiculous it’s because I am. Yet the attitude I’m describing is incredibly common, and doesn’t just affect how people behave towards the younger generations. It affects, perhaps more importantly, the way in which they judge their younger selves.

It’s easy to forget that while we were going through certain life events we had no idea of how they were going to pan out. We know now, because we can look back at them, and it may all seem damn obvious. We can see clearly how A led to B, C and D; we can also see how we really ought to have aimed for E instead. And yeah, perhaps we don’t know what E would have led us to but we know that we don’t like D and that enough, thankyouverymuch.  Or we know that D kinda followed automatically and easily from C and B, so we look at all our past efforts and concerns and have the luxury of classing them as pointless. From the comfort of our porch, we can look back at our younger selves making all sorts of damn foolish mistakes, and despise them for the idiots they were.

Except that those idiots were, way back when, the people fighting for us. Maybe they were the only people fighting for us and maybe they weren’t; but they’re the people who brought us here, to were we’re at now. They’re the people who gave us the knowledge and skills that we believe entitle us to condemn them now. They’re the people who kept us alive long enough to give us a chance to bitch about them. Without them, there’s no us.

Maybe we don’t like where or who we are so much. Maybe we resent our younger selves for getting us into this, for trying too much, or not trying hard enough, or trying wrong. Maybe we could have done better; but I’m willing to bet that we could have done worse, too. It’s easy to forget that the only consequences we’re fully aware of are the ones we have experienced.

I see people running this kind of game on themselves, and it’s pretty awful.I also see people running this kind of game on other people, and it’s probably even worse. It’s particularly egregious when their right to run this game is based on them being “experts.” This kind of attitude makes it way too easy to conflate wisdom with meanness, and to forget that this kind of wisdom is often little more than a data set of anecdotal evidence. There’s a tendency to confuse “the way it went” with “the way it goes,” and forget that each of us really only controls a minuscule proportion of our lives.

Yes, it’s obvious now that I shouldn’t have bought a house right before the house market crash… Only back then we didn’t know the crash was coming for sure, or when it was going to hit, and I needed a place to live, and I didn’t know that I would be forced to sell the house while the market was still down. Yes, clearly that lady shouldn’t have married the guy who went on to rape her… Only when they first met and during their months of courtship and their cohabitation and their engagement and in the first X years of their marriage she had no inkling that he’d ever do such a thing, which is how he ended up in the position to be able to do such a thing. Yes, we all should have known then what we know now, except that the bulk of that knowledge is anecdotal, and the only way we gained it is by actually going through that process.

TL/DR: It’s easy to sit and bitch about people making “bad decisions” and forget that every single new decision is an experiment. It’s easy to take the view that what makes a decision obviously bad or good is its final outcome, and forget the myriad factors that went into causing that outcome. It’s easy to make ourselves feel better by crucifying other people, or feel worse by crucifying ourselves, because people should know better. But it’s all rather silly, and not very helpful, and doesn’t make us very good company for ourselves or others. So maybe it’s about time we collectively stop elevating this to an art form.

 

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