Why we should not take our parents’ and grandparents’ nostalgia too seriously and how the past can help us deal with social changes.
The phrase “Everything was better in the past!” is one that all of us, with certainty, have heard at latest at family gatherings – and perhaps, one that we have sympathised ourselves with before. But what is this “past” that all ‘boomers’ are constantly talking about? Are we talking about a time 50 or 100 years ago or does this phrase reach back even further? It has never been properly dated. But that’s not even necessary. As a matter of fact, this oh-so-popular phrase is rather to be regarded as a symptom of a general phenomenon.
The world was always going to end
Indeed, the fear of “moral decay” or “decline in values” is a concept that has not only been found in peoples’ heads as of recent. According to social ethicist Prof. Dr. Markus Vogt, these negative perceptions of value debate have already been addressed and thematised in ancient times. Vogt explains that the nostalgia for ‘old’ moral principles seems to have pervaded throughout history due to the continuous, necessary evolving of society, which, in itself, is a good thing.
However, often, this development is regarded as rather overwhelming especially by older generations. The familiar and known – the ‘tried and tested’ – and therefore, partially also the questioning of the most personal and deepest dogmas are tied to mental efforts that a lot of people want to resist. Therefore, it is much easier to get lost in ones’ own nostalgia and flee from changing life circumstances. The question is whether those fears of older generations are eligible and whether there actually is something to the phrase: Everything was better in the past? Of course, the answer is no.
Not everything is bad
What used to be the norm, is very often viewed in a completely different light nowadays, which can be regarded as societal progress. Not only moral beliefs are constantly being questioned and re-evaluated but also taboo-topics of the last decades and centuries are incessantly receiving more attention. The topics of dealing with our mental health constitutes a great example as it was as short as 100 years ago that “racial hygiene” was discussed at psychiatric facilities, whereas now we are talking openly and more constructively about diverse topics surrounding our mental health. The increasing relevancy of social media and global exchange supports the creation of a more collective social awareness.
Speeding at 200 km/h towards progress
The change of modern society, however, can be quite staggering because even though the former mentioned development of new values is normal and has always been happening, Prof. Dr. Vogt emphasises the influence of intensely rapid technical and economic progress. This poses an extreme recess into our current daily life and brings, according to Vogt, a certain freedom which requires a lot of mental responsibility on a moral level. Within the frames of globalisation and modern communication of the 21st century, we are constantly confronted with an increasing number of social topics and need to take stance on more and more personal topics. We are facing socio-moral decisions as soon as our weekly grocery shopping where we need to decide between sustainable, healthy and affordable. Without a doubt, the creation of an “awareness” concerning relevant social topics is right and important. Admittedly, the bearing of such personal responsibility and the pressure to participate within all those debates can be exhausting. Additionally, the increasing importance of social media that most of us have unquestionably gotten used to, still completely changes our ways of communications and fortifies social pressure like never before. Even though a great part of many peoples’ lives is mostly happening online, almost exclusively virtual. Between taking care of the personal Instagram profile, circling back and forth between a few apps and the pressure to self-optimise (personally, physical, professionally and health-wise) there is barely any space or time left to focus on ourselves and our surroundings. This is exactly when these past times come in handy.
The balance between progression and regression
A trip down memory lane to past days can bring along a certain feeling of deceleration which we are quite often missing in our current daily lives Reviving the traditional coffee party on Sunday, swapping your iPhone to an analogue camera for the next trip or just actively focusing on the film on the big screen at the cinema is probably more cathartic to body and soul than three hours of constant swiping through TikTok before going to sleep. The return to old practices and traditions of bygone days can enable an escape from the omnipresent technical evolution, from professional and social pressure and the general concern about the future from time to time. Additionally, it allows a mental counteract of the rapid progression of our times.
In conclusion, we can put on record that, indeed, in the past everything was different. Our society in general, the way that we are living and communicating with each other is constantly changing and evolving. In many aspects, this is something positive. However, it should be allowed for all of us to escape modernity and its progression every now and then — to activate airplane mode and distance ourselves from the massive responsibility of being a “modern human-being”. Nevertheless, we, as individuals and parts of society, should consistently, openly and objectively reflect about the relation of present and past times — in order to be able to judge which traditions are worth keeping and what past experiences we can and should gain knowledge from.
Author: Ria Michel
Translation: Marlene Nötzold