I’ve been thinking a lot about perspectives the last few days, mainly how vastly different viewpoints change depending on when one was born. I spoke to a girl in school just last week, and the subject of milestones came up. Not a milestone as in what one has achieved or anything like that, but more along the lines of international incidents that resound throughout society no matter how rich or poor you are – the kind of things that make you remember exactly what you were doing when you heard of it the first time even fifty years after it happened.
Inevitably, we came upon the subject of 9-11 when a group of intellectually unfortunate individuals decided that parking planes in buildings seemed like a good idea. It was my classmate who brought it up, and I confirmed that I indeed remembered what I had been doing that exact day almost ten years ago. I had been washing off the engine block of a tractor before it was to be sold when a friend of mine called me and told me to get my water-and-manure-marinated ass inside and turn on the TV. I got there just in time to see the second plane hit the buildings and I remember not just the disquieting silence in the room but also pretty much every little detail of that day. As I retold my story I noticed how her expression slowly changed from pensive to amused. I asked her what was so funny, and she said that her memory of that day was a bit different. She recalled in vivid detail how her parents had been very serious and a bit shocked, but that didn’t really have a huge impact on her, as she was mainly sitting around playing with her my little pony-dolls.
Now, I would like to take this time to emphasize that I’m not very old, I don’t feel very old and most of all I don’t fear growing old. This is rather important to know, I feel.
I’ve always considered my classmate as just that – a classmate. Someone in generally the same situation as myself, someone who has roughly the same frame of reference as I have. This sudden pony-revelation made me reconsider this quite a lot. I started asking her questions about some things during her childhood/young adulthood. I started comparing what kind of music she had grown up with, what the popular names had been, how she had felt that society worked, and if any particular group of people had been painted as antagonists to our way of life.
Now, this quickly revealed a few major differences between us.
I asked about what catastrophe had impacted her the most when she grew up, and she mentioned the Tsunami in Southeast Asia. I asked her if she could recall the Estonia incident, and she looked at me with a blank face. To me, the tsunami happened just recently. I lived here in Umeå when it happened, and I was working at Bredbandsbolaget at the time. When the Estonia sunk, I was still in grade school. 1994 and 2004. Just ten years apart, and she had never heard of the incident that had in part shaped my generation. I was almost five when reactor 4 in the Chernobyl nuclear power plant went belly-up and caused massive radioactive fallout not just in Russia but also in parts of Sweden. Even young as I was, this was incredibly scary to me. She had read about it in history books. Remember, she is just 10 years younger than I am. Perspective.
During my own childhood, we really didn’t have any generalized protagonist around. Sure, there were a few dissidents that were universally disliked, but nobody that really put the fear in us. Kids could play out pretty late and the only warnings were to look both ways before crossing the road. In movies, Russians were still usually portrayed as the bad guys and now and then a Nazi reared his white-power head to be mocked and beaten down, but mostly all of them were shown as bumbling, rather dimwitted morons, used as the evildoers more out of a sense of irony than any actual fear.
We had a short period of fear when a party of xenophobic Muppets called “Ny Demokrati” was elected into government and the (rather incompetent) murderer John Ausonius known as “Lasermannen” plagued the immigrants living in Sweden. Both things ended fairly quickly.
My classmate however had a very different way of seeing things. She has grown up with the notion of international terrorism imprinting a serious fear on society as a whole. The further evolution of the internet has made sure that she was warned against pedophiles, serial killers, lone gunmen, rapists, Arabs as well as the godsdamned evil Santa every time she was to leave the house. Fear your neighbor, doubt kindness and avoid anyone you don’t really know. The xenophobes this time around are called Sverigedemokraterna and the former leader of Ny Demokrati is now a judge on a talent show on TV.
And people don’t seem to remember. They rail and scream about how horrible racism is, but still line up to watch Talang on TV later the same evening.
Perspectives change, people change, society changes… but it all stays the same.
Somehow it makes me both glad and a bit melancholy at the same time. I want society to be more enlightened, more caring and sharing. Hoping that our generations (both mine and hers) can surpass the people who came before us and evolve; take this world to a new state of being, one where kindness and humanity are rewarded. A society where I can reach out to the other end of the world in less than a second to another person somewhere in a completely different country and culture and .. connect. Not just in a technological sense, but also a personal one. A world where setting aside our differences is the norm, and uniting in a brilliant world of music, literature and different opinions.
The cynic in me knows that this is far, far away. But I can hope.