With all our remarkable thinking/talking/feeling video games and smartphones in the hands of our children, parents have reason to expect the coming generation will be our next Greatest Generation.
But then that’s something like expecting the coming Holidays will be a great break from the daily drone of bad news. Ain’t necessarily so. We can expect a lot of things in our life — personally and nationally — but darn if many of those glittering expectations don’t get dimmed by gloomy realities. If you’re a parent, theologian William Ralph Inge’s reality about your children is pretty sobering: “The proper time to influence the character of a child is about 100 years before he’s born.”
But it’s true, isn’t it? As parents we can do only as much as we can do. Previous generations have already done their thing. Which is to say, the grandparents and great-grandparents have already sown their seeds, their genes, and the culture they helped create within which your children were born and now grow.
That’s not to say you throw up you hands in fatalistic exasperation. For instance like the classic shot across the angry dinner table: “Well, coming from a family like yours, what can we expect!!” No. The past is not simply something you lock behind glass in a museum to admire or condemn. Actually it’s very much a living, breathing, happening reality in the lives of your family and your nation. A factor and a force to be studied, understood, and drawn upon.
Some examples. No football coach goes into a game without studying his rival’s past history on the gridiron…no general goes into battle without understanding something of the other army’s previous campaigns…no clergyman steps into a pulpit without first knowing his congregation’s profile. Likewise, no parent should pretend that the only thing going on between them and their offspring is here-and-now. There’s a very prodigious then-and-there to be factored in.
As a family this means your children come to you not only a precious gift, also a complicated inheritance. You ignore this at a high cost. As a nation this means your ghettos, gangs, crimes, dropouts and foreign enemies come to your headlines with more than just what you’re reading. They come with 100-year histories that we ignore at our peril.
Put it this way. All you “living-in-the-moment” parents and politicians should remember that “the moment” you think you’re living in is only one in a long, complex necklace of moments. To wear any necklace well, better make sure you’re wearing all the beads.
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