March 12, 2010

When Did People Start Being Nice?

Here's a question. Something I'm curious about.

In my parent's day and before, way back into the mists of time,  the population in general seemed to be tougher, but basically unkind to each other.

My mother was clouted a lot by her parents. Her teacher whacked her hands with a cane during lessons. When she had my brother, the nurses and matrons were unspeakably mean; making sure the wheels on her bed were aligned and her sheets were tidy.

My dad was orphaned - despite family around, no one took him in ( another Sepia Saturday in the making). He was raised in a "boy's home".

In those days you just had to take it. I saw a CBC documentary of working mothers during WWII. Without daycare some children were actually tethered alone, outside, all day except when a neighbour-lady would take the kid in for a meal. That would be cause for arrest now.

Heck, even I was tethered to a tree on our property  with my harness in the early 60s. I've never been able to figure out what my mother was doing inside that she couldn't sit with me in the yard for half an hour.

When we were babies, we were all left outside shops in our prams while mothers shopped.  I'm not some kind of hillbilly - this happened to most kids my age.

Kids still "got the strap" at my school up until around 1970.

My husband mentioned this morning that even dogs were tougher back then. When they got their new puppy in 1971 it stayed in the basement on its first night. His parents are lovely people. But we were more hardhearted.

So what I'm trying to figure out is when the tables turned. I can't speak for everyone, but when did we in the West do this 360?

Teachers can't touch kids at all. Corporal punishment is a no-no.Children aren't tied to the oak tree in their yard. Children aren't allowed to roam in the streets. Play dates have to be arranged. We had to wear real itchy wool sweaters in the wintertime and get our fingers caught in real metal Meccano. We didn't have seat belts. Playgrounds had real metal slides and swings that would cause a goose-egg if a corner of it hit you on the head. We had to take our lumps.

A hundred years ago men ran to enlist in the Great War - now people run the other way.

Health care practitioners stand on their heads to make birth a wonderful experience. There's a huge social safety net. Dogs have their own daycare centres. People are more tolerant and accepting and it's wonderful.

So what, when, why or who? It happened some time in the 70s. Gradually of course, but it happened. People started being kinder.

Was it the Viet Nam generation that said "Question Authority"? Was it kids who had grown up during World War 2 and said "never again"? Was it the erosion of a class system? Was it when women started having more buying power? (An aside, - does anybody remember when the only hair styling product was Dippity-do? I do and I'm only 47.) Was it when the boomers started having children of their own and wanted things done differently?

Was it Kennedy? Was it Trudeau. Was it the Beatles? Was it from improvements in communication?

People born in the late 70s or 80s probably won't have experienced this. They were the first coddled generation.  But for anyone else born before -  I bet we have some stories.

Any ideas?


studioJudith said...

Actually, no ideas.
But, you've posed some questions
which really have me thinking about
this dynamic!


California Girl said...

Good questions. I don't know. I always heard the stories from my folks about being beaten or whipped or whatever. I didn't know children in Canada or the US were "tethered" outside while their parents were inside. That seems very weird to me. I thought it was weird when I saw people with leashes on their children. I couldn't imagine leashing my own. I did spank my sons, but not much. My dad would switch my brother and I if we got out of hand. He'd make us go get the switch, which made it worse. He hardly hurt us tho'. He was tenderhearted at the core.

Well, then there's child abuse. Interesting ideas you postulate. Good post.

amourissima said...

Being adopted by my grandparents (who were born in the 1930's) I can understand in a sense (though I am a child of the 80's). They would tell me stories of their parents and what it was like growing up for them- when things were restrictive and simpler. It's interesting and you open my eyes to a whole new point of view, I always though that my generation and the ones following lived in a world that was harsher. Excellent, thought provoking post (as usual).

Blog Princess G said...

I think it's the sexual revolution. Who wouldn't be more cheerful after that?

Alistair said...

Hullo C-Pup,

October 6th 1968......

{about half past three in the afternoon}

I thought everybody knew that.


Ima Wizer said...

I have to agree! My grandparents were a tough lot with very little empathy. I think the Great Depression caused that. My grandmother had zero patience. My "mother" was completely self-centered and never should have had children.
I once had a babysitter who slapped me across my face because I did not want to eat the cake she baked...I was 9. Had any babysitter done that to my kids, I would have pressed charges against her/him.
Yup, times have changed.....

Anonymous said...

Life HAS changed a great deal in the last forty years; I think you've touched the answer to the "why" question with your idea about us Boomers. We really did bring about a lot of societal changes, some good, and some not so much.

It's funny, though, how differently we perceive the world we live in. While I've never missed such things as corporeal punishment for children, I do think that in some ways, we've gone way past the goal in the other direction. Today, most people are afraid to discipline their children at ALL for fear being abusive. And, while the "old days" were harsh in many ways, I think we've become a much less polite society. I'm sometimes shocked by the thoughtlessness and rudeness I encounter each day, from people of all ages.

Good manners and respect for others should still count, even in 2010.

Excellent post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and giving me something to ponder.

K. Bischoping said...

I've wondered where the concern about bullying came from. Whether bullying's gotten worse since my 60s & 70s childhood, facilitated by facebook etc., or whether now we're nicer.