I was born in the year 1968. This profoundly tumultuous year in our country’s history marked a critical moment of our culture’s evolution. Baby Boomers were coming of age, and a daring counterculture had by this time stood forward to challenge traditions and conventions that had prevailed for generations. This was the height of the Vietnam War, and it was the year that witnessed the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy. Also, demonstrators clashed with Chicago police that summer at the Democratic National Convention.
Prior to this, many of our culture’s deepest values and practices changed very slowly, if at all. Norms such as the single-income family prevailed. Men typically wore short hair, neatly combed. Many–not all–married women remained at home to raise children and tend to the household. Manufacturing represented a much larger component of our nation’s economy, and many workers could realistically hope to thrive on careers connected with that sector. Movies did not yet require a ratings system, and television networks lived up to high standards of public decency. The recording industry could only shock the sensibilities of the public with long hair or with dancing that by today’s standards would seem only remotely suggestive. Grown-ups dressed up to go out; children learned manners. To survivors of the Great Depression and World War II, this innocent, wholesome landscape matched in many ways what they had envisioned for their children.
Profound questions and yearnings lurked behind the patina of appearances, however. Americans who were not white, male, Christian, or heterosexual had strictly limited prospects and opportunities compared to those of the favored profile. Our culture’s institutions oozed racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism. Interracial marriage provoked the vilest scorn; gays and lesbians largely lived in denial or in secret. Our collective mindset could not even conceive of a transgendered individual.
So, during the late 1960’s, the counterculture led the campaign to discard the calcified framework of a society so unfair and so biased. Everything from appearances to mannerisms to pastimes to traditions to courtesies to values to expectations of ourselves and others changed drastically. Much of this liberated and empowered people. As a society, we needed this.
And yet, in many ways, we may have missed important opportunities to adapt our practices and conventions to reflect and reinforce our evolving understanding of every human being’s worth. As we cast away the columns and beams of our culture and traditions, we failed in many instances to replace them. We sacrificed the heights from which we looked out on the world and took up a vantage point on the very ground beneath us.
Being white, male, heterosexual, and Christian, I invite criticism, perhaps, to question the course we have taken as a culture–even while I celebrate our advances. And it may do better to consider our future as our culture evolves ever more rapidly, and with technology and societal fragmentation posing so many challenges to our humanity. Indeed, my career as an educator impels me to do just that.
Still, I find myself looking back to a time before I was born, lamenting that those before me did not carry a few important items forward to sustain us.
It pleases me to see that we have learned
It’s wrong to block a woman from a job.
Our country has done right now to have spurned
The notion of night justice by a mob.
God smiles to know we’ve come to understand
Our worship of Him takes on many forms.
We do well, too, to scorn the false demand
Of life so cruelly bound by long held norms.
The Planners’ Draft five decades since begun
To clear away Convention’s cramped confines
Has yielded forth a landscape bathed in sun
And hills where souls trace fancied, free designs.
But how this sweet utopia’s a mess:
The way we walk, speak, drive, write, eat, and dress!