Looking Back, Looking Forward



Looking back, I had it pretty good, I guess. We had all the modern conveniences.

The "Ice Man" brought a 50-pound slab of ice to our back porch and chopped it to fit in our "Ice Box." He always chipped off a small piece for me. Glass bottles of milk were delivered by a horse-drawn wagon and left at our front door. Empties were placed in a wire cage to be picked up. A similar wagon would bring bread once a week to the neighborhood. Once or twice a year, a coal truck came and dropped a chute down to the coal bin in our basement. Down came a ton or more of black sooty coal to fire our furnace for the winter. There was a store within walking distance. It probably didn't contain as many items as one single aisle in Safeway today, but it provided some nice extras when there was a bit of "spending money" available.

We even had a car, and I remember how envied we were to have an "A" ration card on the windshield. Pop had a job that was considered essential, so he got priority at the filling station. Once in a while, we rode in the car out to "The Country" to visit kinfolk. Most, but not all, had electricity and running water for the kitchen. None that I recall had indoor bathrooms. There was a long-running taunt that we were the "City Slickers" and were spoiled rotten. This was spoken in good humor, though. There had been far worse times for everyone.

My grandmother on my father's side was born in 1864, a year before the end of the Civil War. She got to watch television before she died, but wasn't all that impressed. Most of the great innovations in the Western World have taken place within the span of my grandmother's birth and today's date -- an awesome thought.

Some people reading this article can recall events or circumstances more unique and further back into history, than I. We would agree, though, that just in the past two generations, Western society in particular has evolved exponentially in the fields of science and technology. Whether the pace can be maintained (or should be) is in question. Certainly, our life today bears little resemblance to that of only a few generations back. Time flies. Are we having fun yet?

I wonder if human nature has changed all that much over this period. On balance, perhaps, there has been a degree of positive change, but a case could be made that overall the changes have been miniscule. Americans, in particular, might be quick to insist that huge changes in the nature of individuals have taken place. We are the "City Slickers" of the world, though.

A famous psychologist, Abraham Maslow, once illustrated how human nature changes based on a triangle showing a hierarchy of needs. At the base, of course, would be: food, clothing, shelter etc. A person satisfied to that degree searches for the next level: security, morality, spirituality, etc. The levels are stacked upon each other in narrowing bands, and one evolves to higher and higher levels until only a small triangle exists at the top. Assuming one has reached that level, there is no more need for higher attainment, and one would therefore devote all their time and energy to the improvement of others. Take away a level at any point and a struggle begins automatically to restore it. As certain needs are fulfilled, human nature appears to improve in ways that benefit society. According to Maslow, the stages of advancement are uniformly dependable and can be used to identify all societal stages around the globe throughout history.

On the other hand, three generations of my family came through some of the worst times in American history. They saw the horror, destruction and savagery of a brutal Civil War and its legacy. They rose back up to some degree, but watched fortunes wiped away by soil erosion or a little bug called the "Boll Weevil." A Great Depression took away any hope of financial improvement for a long period. There were huge swings in fortune and misfortune.

I like to believe that throughout all this, their nature remained strong and positive. Certainly, by the time I was able to observe and make decisions, I thought they were the strongest and best-adjusted people I knew. They were well along in the "Triangle" by then, though. The stories I heard about previous generations told of innovative and resolute individuals. Perhaps there were others simply not talked about.

Around the world, this generation is facing monumental societal change. The next generation will be able to tell for sure whether Mr. Maslow's theories are truly at work.

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