Beneath the Gap
JULY 01, 1969 by JOHN C. SPARKS
Mr. Sparks is an executive of an Ohio manufacturing company and a frequent contributor to The Freeman.
The young college professor was telling how the generation gap should be bridged: "When I communicate with my six-year-old son, I must talk on this level." With that he knelt to show that he talked on a child’s level rather than that of an adult.
The example was effective, but a listener offered an important clarification. "Speak in the six-year-old’s language, yes," he said, "but not in a six-year-old’s principles." While it is best to use words understood by the youngster, the principles expressed should reflect the wisdom of a qualified and experienced adult.
Unfortunately, many of today’s parents seem to have abdicated their responsibility to instruct their offspring. If they have tuned in, it is not to communicate, but only to listen to childish prattle. Furthermore, the parental extensions hired as teachers in high schools and colleges—at least some of them—are guilty of similar abdication!
Now, a generation gap is nothing new or unique to our time, but there seems to be about the current gap a critical difference. The sickness manifested in the deplorable antics of a few of the young seems to be deeply ingrained in the adults who fail to see their own illogical and immoral behavior reflected by their sons and daughters. Worse yet, many such adults fail to recognize that they themselves are victims and carriers of the disease.
Such parents from my generation are now reaping the whirlwind of the collectivist and totalitarian philosophy they embraced in exchange for the old wisdom of self-reliance and self-responsibility. Having been exposed throughout their lives to relentless "intellectual" attacks upon individual responsibility and self-reliance, they are today unqualified and untrained to instruct their children according to sound principles. Making decisions without benefit of established principles gives answers that change with the whims or emotions of the moment. The consequence is a confusing variety of fallacies.
Fallacies and Folly
One fallacy is to equate the revolutionary spirit and action of youth to some noble turn of history—as though all revolutions are solidly based to overcome evil. Thus, the perpetrators of the Boston Tea Party are equated with the rioters at Berkeley, Christ’s ejection of the money changers from the temple compared with the captors of the administrative offices at Columbia. Though the principles underlying these actions are from opposite poles, the purported similarity is loudly proclaimed. In this manner, violence is excused or even applauded. Open threats by student-revolutionaries against the lives of others, often with racial overtones, are common themes of television documentaries and interviews.
While public sympathy will seldom support these threats, neither is there the resolution and fortitude to condemn such immorality. Not so much a lack of courage, perhaps, as the simple failure to debunk the fallacy of revolution for revolution’s sake.
A second fallacy underlying the push toward collectivism, through the medium of youth disturbances, is the contention that the major advances of mankind throughout history have had youthful leaders. The recitation of supporting data carefully ignores all vital contributions by older persons. This fallacy scarcely deserves the time to refute it. Medical scientists assure us that the human brain has the capacity for growth long after other bodily functions start to decline. In the face of such knowledge, are we simply to ignore the many daily decisions by industrial, cultural, political, and spiritual leaders, most of whom are over 30 years of age?
A third fallacy, related to the second, asserts that those over 30 represent the Establishment (whatever that means), and are stodgy, stuffy, and uncreative. The real targets are the old virtues of integrity, self-reliance, self-responsibility, courtesy, and respect for persons and for property. "Old" is hardly an appropriate description for these qualities— no matter how long since their discovery—when the purpose of such derision is to replace them with nothing, which is a far older condition among mankind. The advocates of big government, more control of people, and more paternalistic programs are well aware that the success of collectivism depends upon the dilution and erosion of the ancient virtues.
Consequently, anything old becomes the target—people over 30, as well as "old" marks of character. Personal success and achievement are also maligned, anyone in the winners’ circle probably having resorted to such trickery as hard work, ambition, and integrity. Those winners, it is alleged, are no longer desirous of any change that will disturb their way of life—the Establishment!
The fact, of course, is that relieving the sore spots of mankind is not the exclusive concern of any one age group. Granted, the young may have more physical vigor and zest for crusading. But on the side of their elders is personal experience and wisdom and the other resources needed to cope with injustice. Branch Rickey was well beyond the age of 30 when he hired the first Negro professional to play baseball in the National League. Every year, thousands of bills are proposed in state and national legislatures by sincere men of all ages in the interest of justice—though such measures often tend to aggravate rather than alleviate problems. Others of all ages strive—just as sincerely and, hopefully, to better effect—to limit the scope of government intervention and to expand the realm for private decision-making and individual responsibility. Sincerity alone may not assure the correction of injustice, but we know that men and women of all ages are sincerely concerned.
To Magnify and Expose
We return now to the basic issue behind the turbulent facade of the generation gap. The unwarranted and sometimes violent outbursts by the young serve largely to screen and camouflage the real controversy—one manifestation of it that bids to out-dramatize all others. However, this outcropping is serious; and it may help to magnify and expose the underlying problem.
Today’s parents have allowed their young people to come into adulthood often defenseless against those who aspire to totalitarian power. No wonder that many young men and women have had their minds and wills captured by the irrationality of such leaders. How could they be expected, without effective homework, to cope with the half-truths and clichés of collectivist ideologies? How is the young college student to argue effectively for self-reliance when every major adult action within his memory was designed to transfer the responsibility for personal burdens onto others via laws and new taxation?
True, there have been warnings sounded and predictions of dire results from such abandonment of individual decision-making and self-responsibility. Perhaps those who have heard and ignored these warnings have felt the evil results would never touch them personally—something instead that might happen to the economy under rapid inflation; or the gradual unpleasantness of frequent tax hikes; or the half-guilty, half-welcome idea of government security and medical care for the elderly; or the subsidies and controls for education, urban development, agriculture, research, employment—to cite only a few—all accepted after the mildest kind of objection.
Perhaps these persons hoped that all other human relations would remain the same after private decision-making was abandoned. There would be no deterioration of morals. Children somehow would learn the value of truthfulness, respect, gentleness, honesty, and hard work—without instructing them and despite the glaring contradictions lived by parents. Can we thus deny basic principles in our own actions as we move toward totalitarian ideologies, yet hope that our sons and daughters have learned real truths and virtues regardless? It appears rather that we now must reap what we have sown.
The real issue is between the very old and obsolete totalitarian concept of those seeking power over others and the more recent view that every man has an unalienable right from the Creator to seek in liberty his own development and fulfillment. Support the latter in study and deed, and the generation gap will fade to its normal insignificance.
We can do more for other men by correcting our own faults than by trying to correct theirs.