My grandmother grew up in what appeared to be a polished and perfect world.
I saw it through the television screen on the old game show “What’s My Line?”
This was the world of gloved hands, formal introductions and universally held manners that everyone seemed to keep in public. As I watched episode after episode, I found myself wishing for that kind of gentility in our world today.
If my grandmother Fleeta, who died before I was born, had a similar kind of TV time capsule to see what our culture is like today, she would be shocked. I think she would be appalled at our language, our attitudes and our lack of respect for others and ourselves.
TV tends to highlight the extremes in our culture, but as I’ve seen such ugliness grow in our world in the last few years, I can't help but think my grandma would be horrified.
We’ve lost the ability to disagree, to communicate effectively and to hear opposing viewpoints without devolving into name-calling and hate speech. Sometimes I wonder if we’ve lost our ability to think logically, without emotion, and to see the bigger picture, to act together to reach a greater good. I wonder if we will ever regain the kind of presentational respect that was expected in my grandmother’s day.
When I’ve found myself in political discussions and disagreed, I’ve been dismissed as dumb — and that’s a best-case scenario.
For example, I have a friend who took a position on a hot-button issue in state politics. She owns a popular store in my town, and she has been open about her beliefs regarding this issue, which will be on the ballot in November. Her views are unpopular, but she has been honest and forthcoming about her perspective.
She expected some response to her boldness, but the vitriol she received was a shock. Adults with opposing views started calling her store, harassing her young employees, leaving menacing messages on her voicemail. They threatened to boycott her store, they called her names, and they promised to tear her down. One message she played for me said, “Hello, I hope you get cancer and die,” followed by expletive after expletive.
When I put this exchange in the context of my grandmother’s world, I cannot fathom the panelists of “What’s My Line?” ever responding on such a level. It would be intellectually beneath them, let alone uncouth, unprofessional and unproductive.
That being said, there was another side to my grandmother’s 1950s world, as polite and kind and polished as they were, and it came through as I watched that popular game show.
One of lead panelists on “What’s My Line?,” Dorothy Kilgallen, was said to have overdosed on alcohol and barbiturates one night after taping the show. Other panelists were demeaning towards women, making frequent comments about their appearance and calling them “baby” and “doll.”
So, the extremes of my world and the extremes of my grandmother’s world are not our best, but what if it was possible to have the best of both worlds? That is the hybrid I want for my children. I want a world filled with respect and decency, with kindness and sincerity, with manners and authenticity, with cleverness and candid speaking.
Maybe we can be more respectful. Maybe we can be more resilient. Maybe we can take the world of our grandparents and make it even better.
I may not be willing to put on a pair of gloves, but I’ll give you my best and be respectful.
After all, no matter the generation, we’re in this together.