Grinding Our Gears

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Back when we were still young and adventurous my husband purchased a pickup truck with a standard transmission. I had to learn how to shift those gears and at first there was no hiding my inexperience as they would grind with an horrific noise that announced my lack of skill to the world. With practice I drove the beast with a confidence that was as smooth as silk but I’ll never forget how annoying and even embarrassing my first efforts were. I was proud to learn something new and I often think about how much more willing to try new things we seem to be in our youth. As we grow older we often become more reticent to consider novel ideas. I suppose that if I were to be honest I would admit that we older folk are all too often totally set in our ways and that attitude grinds my gears as badly as I did with our old truck.

Everything around us is constantly changing. The world of today is so different from the one into which I emerged as an infant. Heck, it had changed significantly by the time I was in my twenties. The strain between my age group and our parents came to be forever known as the generation gap. Our intentions were often misunderstood by our elders who wanted desperately to cling to older ways of thinking and doing things. History shows us that the dichotomy between the young and the old has often been this way. In our youth we are focused on the future and infinite possibilities. As we grow older we simply want to enjoy the world in peace just as it is. it’s feels more difficult to keep learning new things and we are sometimes too tired to bother.  

In another time most of my generation would already have departed this world. Modern medicine and a higher standard of living has increased the lifespan of most societies in remarkable ways but all too often the older folk cling to the past tenaciously and resist the newer ways of the young. Of late we have even tended to hold onto the reins of power far longer than ever before, creating a kind of lopsided command of businesses, wealth and even countries. The flow of opportunity to the younger adults is not as certain as it once was. 

Longings for the old ways are not innately bad but they do have the effect of sometimes stifling new ideas. They have the potential of slowing down progress in favor of just staying the same or even going back to a time that actually no longer exists. The tension between the old and the new stretches us to the max and creates frustrations in both camps. Meanwhile pressing issues remain on hold with no reasonable solutions in sight. 

I grew up with exceedingly wise elders. My grandfather was a fan of change because he had seen the fastest proliferation of it during his lifetime. He understood how difficult life was for most people during his youth at the end of the nineteenth century. By the time of his death in the nineteen eighties he had witnessed the birth of electricity, running water and plumbing inside homes, the invention of the automobile, the plane, the telephone, moving pictures, televisions, space travel, Medicare, Social Security. This list seems almost infinite and my grandpa praised everything that had happened while often saying that “the good old days” were in the present, not the past.

My mother often quoted the Bible in urging me to remember that there is a time and a season for everyone. She criticized my generation for holding onto our power so tenaciously. She felt that we should step aside and allow the next generation to try their hand at leading. Shortly before she died she reiterated her concern that we demand too much control without providing our young a way to have a say in how things should be done. She disliked that we all too often criticize their efforts instead of attempting to learn more about the rationale for their thinking. She urged us to respect our children and grandchildren and even pointed to the fact that most of the founders of the United States who rebelled against King George were in their twenties and thirties at the time of the revolution. She saw great irony in the fact that we so often point to those founders to keep things the same.

I understand the desire to just be left alone with the way things have always been. i don’t want to learn how to use new machines or learn difficult concepts. It takes me longer to do those kind of things than it did when I was in my prime. My seventy two year old brain struggles in ways that it never did when I was young. Nonetheless I consider stretching it to be as important to my health as keeping my body moving. I don’t want to become a dinosaur, so like my grandfather and mother I choose to be open to thinking that challenges my own. I spend a great deal of time reading and researching even controversial ideas and philosophies. 

A current idea that at times sound absurd and even unfair is to provide free college tuition to anyone who wants a higher education. Like many in my age group I think of how hard I had to work to pay my way through both an undergraduate and graduate degree. Later my husband and I took out loans to send our two daughters to college. It took us many years to repay those debts. It took great sacrifice and it does indeed seem a bit unfair to suddenly give everyone a “free ride” as some call it. Nonetheless I also see how the inflation of college costs has been exponential. I paid under a thousand dollars a year to attend a university. By the time my daughters were in college that cost had increased to seven thousand a year. Now the average cost for a year of college “is almost thirteen thousand dollars and year and that amount keeps rising. 

It is estimated that those who earn degrees often leave college owing in excess of one hundred thousand to two hundred fifty thousand dollars. At the same time salaries have not kept pace so that many young adults are dying under the strain of being upside down with debt that far exceeds their incomes. Perhaps it is time to consider this issue without thinking of it as a handout to “lazy” individuals who are “unwilling to work as hard as we did”. Somewhere along the way the cost of education seems to have run away from us and we need to do something to help rather than simply asking our young to just deal with it. We won’t resolve this and other issues until we earnestly talk about how to do so with good intentions and outcomes for everyone. 

Progress and change is difficult sometimes but it is also the way the world moves forward. All of us need to be more open and flexible and willing to compromise to keep our world looking into the future rather than being stuck in the past. One we practice this those gears will begin to move without grinding. The smooth functioning of the human journey has always demanded a willingness to think out of the box and a need to honestly communicate with one another with respect. Only when we open our minds will things operate as they should.

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