People often refer to “the Good Old Days”. This habit is not necessarily limited to older people; sometimes surprisingly young ones do the same. The younger ones probably refer to times when I was young. The question is, were the Good Old Days really that good?
First of all, I am 100% sure that when I was young, people already referred to “the Good Old Days”, then referring to times from before I was born.
If the saying has any truth in it, it follows that things are getting progressively worse as mankind progresses. This would be easy to believe if you read newspapers and watch the news on television.
So, is the world going to hell in a hand basket?
We could argue that the world is in a sorry state. We have IS and Boko Haram and this kind of seemingly wanton organised crime of a nature and scope ostensibly comparable to Attila the Hun. We have terrible wars in Syria, Irak, in the Sudan and other places of Africa. We have the USA sending drones eliminating suspects and totally innocent family, friends and neighbours wherever they deem fit. Which amounts to death sentences being carried out without any form of trial or judicial supervision in addition to killing innocents. The other super powers are not exactly behaving like boy scouts either.
In addition, we have global warming for those who believe in it. Then there is the terrible Ebola crisis. None of this sounds very good.
The question is if things were really better 50 years ago and I don’t think so. There was the interminable Vietnam war, there was the crisis in Northern Ireland, there were terrible famines in the Sahel, in Biafra, in Ethiopia. There was the “cultural revolution” in China. The Soviet “bloc” was one giant prison. There was not one river in which one could swim and none had any fish. Health and safety standards in and around factories were poor, putting life and wellbeing for workers and local residents at risk. We had acid rain, we had a hole in the Ozone layer. Cars did not start at the beginning of winter and were generally much more expensive and much less reliable than they are today.
Most unfortunately we now have to live with Aids. Still, overall Medical treatment and treatment options have made giant leaps forwards. Although I have no data, I would assume people live healthier and longer almost anywhere on the globe.
Communications, both in term of travel and information exchange are of course in no way comparable to what they were 50 years ago. There were no cash dispensers. Can you imagine what it was to travel for any length of time to a foreign country? You had to bring all the cash you were likely to need with you. If you miscalculated things or lost your wallet you had a major issue. (By the way, if you still wish to experience this, go to Venezuela. They have cash machines but none that I tried worked for foreigners). This issue was of course compounded by the fact that it was far from easy to reach anyone at the home base, as there was no e-mail and no mobile phone.
Despite all the terrible issues that afflict our world, international justice is also constantly progressing. Political and military leaders now face the real prospect of being put to trial if they grossly misbehave. For the moment, this applies of course only to leaders of smaller countries, but it is a start in the right direction.
The world is improving constantly and at almost all levels. This is not a long smooth curve, it happens with ups and downs but it happens inexorably. This must be clear to all. So why do we still speak of the “Good Old Days”?
There is ONE thing that has gone, and gone forever: people. Family, friends, loved ones, especially ones’ parents – when one is my age they will have passed away or soon will. I know nothing more comforting than spending time with ones’ parents or grandparents. Nothing ever since has given me this feeling of total security. And this is the one thing that can never come back. And this, I think, is the very only thing that was really good in the Good Old Days.
Maarten van Leeuwen
Group Managing Director
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