As the mariner thinks about it, the mariner and his wife raised good children. In retrospect, we could not genuinely empathize with their lives. They were growing in their own existential space just as we had experienced the world into which we were born.
Physiologically, the growth patterns were the same as they are for every generation. What blocks our empathy is they are growing in a different world. Our children have a different social environment, a different national impact on their lives, a different interpretation of jobs, a different lifestyle.
When the mariner was 8 years old, he carried furnace ashes to the yard; his mother was bedridden so he washed clothes in a laundry tub with a washboard. The mariner’s public education had no electronics. He was taught cursive writing in two elementary grades. He accepted these things as the world that he had to encompass in some way.
The mariner’s children did not have to carry ashes but the burdens were different. Public schools had a more complex environment. Children were moved around, had pressure to participate in ancillary programs in music, sports, hobby clubs, etc. The mariner’s elementary and middle school had no pressures similar to those of the mariner’s children. The children’s school model was socially more difficult than for the mariner.
The mariner learned the principals of economic ethics at the age of ten. There was a summer reading program at the public Library. He received a headband made of construction paper. For each book he read, he would receive a feather stapled to the headband. If he read enough books, he would receive a strip of paper that would hang down his back like an Indian headdress. Additional feathers were stapled to the strip.
The mariner took a couple of books home to read. About a week later, when he had finished reading them, he returned to the library to find a girl in his class had feathers almost to the floor. He noticed that she was checking very thin children books ten at a time that were returned promptly for more feathers. To the mariner, the principle was to encourage reading – how altruistic. The feathers, a construction paper symbol of personal aggrandizement rather than progress in reading, were more important than actually reading good books. The mariner links this example of ignoring virtue and manipulating a process totally for personal gain to the economic manipulation by banks that caused the recession and the collapse of the housing market.
How did the mariner’s children see this collapse? He learned their worldview is extremely skeptical, even cynical about every element of society. They assume they are on their own; the government, business, banks, whatever, were vultures waiting to pick their bones. The mariner’s children do not believe that Social Security will be around when they are old. the mariner’s children feel they owe nothing to the institutions of our society. To them, it is a make it on your own environment; the social infrastructure is of no use to them.
How different is this experience from the early days of the mariner’s life. There was comfort that institutions would provide jobs and security. The government was not in turmoil as it is today. The government was where one acquired a driver’s license, a marriage license, a Social Security card or joined the armed services. The government was a stable, somewhat helpful entity during the mariner’s younger years. How different the existential experience is for our children compared to the mariner’s experience.
Washing clothes with a washboard doesn’t seem so bad in comparison to the life challenging world of the mariner’s children. Would we old codgers be able to handle the pace of life and the eclectic manner in which jobs are found, or surviving without our pensions?