Thinking about the “good old days” of the past

Published 5:53 pm Friday, September 18, 2020

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Confession: I used to think air travel was a new thing invented in the 1990’s.

That’s the decade I grew up in, absorbing tons of new information and learning more and more about the world every day. As a kid not even 10 years old yet, I would hear some of my classmates occasionally mention flying on an airplane for family trips. I’d never been on a plane before (and I wouldn’t experience air travel myself until much later as a college student), so the concept was hard to imagine. Getting into a big metal machine that flies through the air? Sounds weird!

At the time, I thought airplanes were just a new fad catching on because I’d never heard of them before. I didn’t know the history of the technology and how it had developed over the past century. Even when I did learn about the Wright Brothers and their first successful flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903, I just somehow thought it had taken until the 90’s for people to regularly start traveling by air.

Of course, as I continued to grow up, I learned a lot more about history and the world itself. And I realized my initial impression had been silly and wrong. I had to shift my perception of what I thought was reality. Plane and airports and convenient air travel around the globe had existed long before I ever noticed them.

I think about this memory every time people start talking about and wishing for the “good old days” of the past. They’ll say stuff like “things were different back in my day” and “the world was a safer place.” And those statements may be partially true, but they don’t accurately describe the whole picture. We’re probably all guilty of looking through rose-tinted nostalgia glasses when we think back to when times were simpler for us. When we didn’t have bills to pay. When we didn’t understand the dangers of walking alone at night. When we didn’t understand concepts like the economy and insurance and politics.

There’s nothing wrong with reminiscing, of course. We can still have plenty of fond memories of how things were when we were young. But children aren’t always aware of the realities of the world. Your memories of your own experiences are fine, but your view of how the rest of the world was back then may be distorted. When you look back, it seems a lot better than the present because you never noticed the bad stuff when you were younger.

Bad things still happened even if you weren’t aware of them.

It was not “the good old days” for everyone in the world. People still struggled in a variety of different ways. People didn’t have the modern conveniences we have today. (Some may say we’re better off without some of those modern conveniences, but those same people wouldn’t give them up if asked.) Discrimination in all forms—racism, homophobia, sexism, etc—was even worse than it was now. We still have a long, long, long ways to go in those areas, but there have been definite improvements compared to the past.

Getting stuck in the mindset of wishing you could return to the “good old days” is dangerous. It keeps us from acknowledging the realities of our world today. It allows us to plug our fingers in our ears and close our eyes to pretend none of it exists.

There is no “good old day” to return back to.

We are old enough to know better. We have to learn to live with the world we’re in now—with all of its good and ugly realities—and make it a place for everyone to live and live well.

There was a time when I mistakenly thought airplanes were a silly little fad. But I grew up, educated myself, and then understood the reality. It’s time more of us did the same.

Holly Taylor is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact her at or 252-332-7206.