Are We Smarter Than Our Forefathers?
D. Alan Johnson
20 March, 2010
The human race has grown and prospered for several thousand years. Our ancestors conquered jungles, deserts, oceans, and mountains. They withstood floods and droughts, deadly winters withering summers, pestilence, and famine. Fashioning tools, first of wood and stone, and then of bronze and steel, they brought about technological upheavals undreamed of, even by science fiction writers.
Great empires rose and fell, the Dark Ages crushed Western Civilization for almost a thousand years, and then religious wars swept Europe. After that the human spirit was almost ground into dust by the Age of Machines. In the last hundred years millions died in two World Wars, in the communist purges, by a Nazi holocaust, and then we learned to live under the nuclear theology of Mutually Assured Destruction.
Yet during all of this, our forefathers wrote poetry, composed music, painted, sculpted, built cities, roads, temples, and coliseums. They raised families, attended church, rebelled against tyranny, founded universities, and established governments.
When I look back at what they accomplished, it takes my breath away.
My question is, “Did our race learn anything during all of these trials and changes? Is there a store of wisdom left to us by our ancestors? Can we glean anything from their writings or customs that would help us cope with the lesser trials that we endure in our luxurious world?”
My young co-worker says, “No. Anything written or filmed before 1994 has no relevance to today. We have learned so much and progressed so far that we have nothing to gain by digging around in the dustbin of history.”
Are we really that smart? Can we truly say that we are greater mental and emotional giants than Solomon and Plato? Are there no lessons to be learned by the study of Gibbon’s The Fall of the Roman Empire? Does today’s music move one to cry like Mozart’s Ave Maria? And watching the lessons of leadership taught to John Wayne in Fort Apache still inspires young US Army officers.
Across the ages, millions of families have raised children, operated a household budget, cared for the sick and dying, and worshipped something greater than themselves. They recorded snippets of poetry, proverbs, instructions to sons. What have we done with these treasures? Have we built on their experiences to have a better life? It doesn’t seem so.
Our culture looks as if we have thrown out the kernels of wisdom left to us by our forefathers. Old fashioned concepts like honesty, hard work, patience, thrift, generosity, and courtesy are ridiculed by so many of today’s youth. John D. Rockefeller didn’t think it below his worth to work as a clerk for years, saving his pennies, before he founded Standard Oil. Yet our young people say they can’t take an entry level job because they have a college degree. And don’t even talk to them about a job like lawn mowing—I’m sorry—landscaping.
Personal responsibility is perhaps the greatest casualty. Every bad thing that happens today is someone else’s fault. “The teacher hates me, the boss is an idiot, the cops are racist. Let’s file a lawsuit!”
Perhaps it is time to look again at the wisdom literature left to us. I think that we despise it because it’s free. We didn’t have to suffer to get it or pay huge amounts of treasure. My bet is that we would pay more attention if we did.
He who spares his rod hates his son,
But he who loves him disciplines him promptly.
Solomon, 965 BC
Stand by the ways and see and ask for the old paths,
Where the good way is, and walk in it;
And you will find rest for your souls.
Jeremiah, 610 BC
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Jesus, 30 AD
The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.
St. Paul, 65 AD
Early to bed, early to rise,
Makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.
Ben Franklin, 1765 AD
Get married before you have the baby.
Grandma Rooker, 1972 AD
Each of these sayings is in direct contradiction to today’s mores. I only ask that you consider that our ancestors lived by their wits, their determination, and their ability to adapt. They produced remarkable children, stable households, and human progress. Give them a chance. You might be surprised.