I love the phrase: ‘the olden days’.
When we’re children, our youthful minds can just about wrap our giddy little heads around the passing of a year as it connects to birthdays, being a bigger boy or girl, sugary treats and presents. But how can a young mind comprehend decades, centuries or even further back?
It all melds into one vast expanse of time: the olden days. Just about anything can fall into this huge catchment, be it woolly mammoths, castles, black-and-white films from 60 years ago, or VHS video tapes.
Most of all, of course, it includes your parent’s stories.
Like when they recant the story of how 30 years ago they bought their first car for £200 and their starter house for £15,000. Ah, the olden days. The golden days!
It was only a starter house after all; it quickly shot up in value to £45,000 and their second four-bedroom home, purchased much later in life (age 22), is now worth a cool half-million.
Yes, those were the days. How I want what they had.
Then I look at my sibling: there’s just eight years between us. Her and her husband’s first house cost £35,000. By the time I’d graduated and could even consider buying, this same house had tripled in value.
It was recently reported that those in their 30’s now have 50 per cent less wealth than those born just the decade before. Born just eight years later than my sibling – eight years too late.
How I want what they had.
Or take my friend! He was just five years older than me, but he was in the last days of the university grant system. I may have to explain this to the younger ones amongst us, but in the ‘olden days’ university was FREE and if you were poor enough, they used to give you free money to help with living costs!
My friend lived at home with his parents though, so he bought a car with the money and two expensive guitars. The grants system finished two years before I applied for university. I don’t play guitar, but how I want his Les Paul and no debts.
Then again, back in the day, my own total university bill came to less than £9,000. Ah, the olden days!
I wonder now how you feel about me – especially if you have five-figure loan amounts and seemingly never-ending repayments. Do you want what I had?
I obsess about this stuff a lot. I wonder if we all do, as a generation.
There are a range of responses to this dilemma. One is to try to work even harder, to try to surmount this inequality by sheer effort. Another – rightly so – is to campaign for inter-generational fairness across society, however that can be achieved.
However, I often find myself going to the wrong place. I let it slip into something unhealthy; inter-generational envy. I want what they have.
It was the great philosopher Homer who defined envy best: “I’m not jealous, I’m envious. Jealousy is when you worry someone will take what you have. Envy is wanting what someone else has.” (Homer Simpson, Season 26, Ep. 8)
It’s a strange kind of wrong-doing, isn’t it? Because in one sense I can say that I’d like to have what older generations have – to have the opportunities they had; and there isn’t anything wrong with that.
However, I can also want what they have, and let this want eat me up with bitterness, drive wrong motivations and put up walls between me and other generations. Between me and people I love – and that’s wrong.
So here’s the final response I know I should give: I’m thankful for all I do have, and I’m aware of the fact that the opportunities and privileges I have are exceedingly, vastly more than the majority of people in the world. I’m also glad that God has blessed others and I accept from Him the hand He wishes to give me. I don’t think in any way this precludes my first response. I’ll still work hard, I’ll still fight for fairness for our generation and for the truly disadvantaged in this country and abroad.
Of course, I still would like lots of good things! However, whether I receive those things or not, I want to receive them with freedom and to love more perfectly those who have what I would like to have.