I was born in another time, 69 years
after the end of the U.S. Civil War This may sound like a long time ago,
but it doesn’t seem that long ago to me anymore. To give you some perspective:
I still vividly remember hearing the announcement of the outbreak of World
War II, and that was more than 57 years ago.
I was born just 20 years after the completion
of the Panama Canal, 14 years after women in the U.S. were granted the
vote, and a mere seven years after Lindbergh made the first flight across
the Atlantic. (For that matter, it was only 31 years after the Wright brothers
made the first powered flight.) I remember, when I was a youngster, watching
in awe as DC3 passenger planes flew overhead.
When I was born, only the rich or the
very adventurous could really consider travelling great distances. Most
people who crossed the ocean did so by ship. This required a lot of money
and a lot of time. There was “steerage,” which was much less expensive,
but conditions there were often intolerable. A voyage from New York to
Europe took a week or two depending on the ship involved. It took eight
days when I sailed from New York to Southampton, England in 1956. Travel
to major cities in Asia took much longer, typically several weeks. Going
to out of the way places took much longer.
Crossing the oceans by air was faster,
of course, but was still quite an undertaking. Asia, Europe, Alaska, Africa,
and even the west coast for someone like myself on the east coast of the
U.S., were all very far off places.
Travelling any significant distance
by car was still considered an adventure. There wasn’t the enormous network
of roads and superhighways that we take for granted today. The roads that
existed often weren’t in the best condition and gas and repair stations
were often uncomfortably far apart. Moreover, there weren’t any McDonalds,
Burger Kings, Dairy Queens, or KFCs, conveniently spaced along the way.
There were places to eat, but they were often of questionable quality.
Further adding to the adventure was the fact that cars were not necessarily
reliable and it would not surprise the traveller to have car trouble during
a long journey.
We travelled the 90 miles or so to summer
camp by jitney. It took eight hours. But most people travelled by bus or
train. It was a special occasion to go by train and we got dressed up for
it. Until I bought a car in 1953, I journeyed the 250 miles to college
and the 1,500 miles (and 26 hours) to Miami, Florida by train. On many
of these trips the trains were pulled by steam engines.
There was a real contrast between rural
and urban environments. For the traveller, “rural” meant “primitive,” “isolated,”
“farms,” “general stores,” and very often it meant no electricity, no indoor
plumbing and outhouses. Rural living required much more self-reliance and
neighbourliness. There weren’t any shopping malls every few miles. At best
there were scattered farms and an occasional village.
Although most vehicles by then were
motorised, some were not. One horse-drawn vehicle that I remember made
its way down the street with fresh fruits and vegetables for sale. Horse
droppings were to be avoided in crossing the street—and this was in New
We wrote with pens and pencils when
I was a kid, but the pens had "nibs," which we dipped into inkwells. Every
few words, we’d have to dip them again to replenish the ink. There were
fountain pens, which had their own ink supply, but only the older kids
got to use them.
We called our refrigerator an “icebox”
It’s a habit I still sometimes lapse into. Quite a few iceboxes were still
There was no television. We got our
news mostly by reading newspapers and listening to the radio and also by
going to the movies. During World War II, news film had to be flown across
the ocean, developed, and delivered to theatres, where twice a week we
could see short, carefully selected scenes from the war.
There were no antibiotics, birth control
pills, computers, printers, scanners, CD players, electronic calculators,
ATMs, clock-radios, plastic sandwich bags, plastic wrap, call-waiting,
call-forwarding, portable telephones, cell phones, pagers, fax machines,
home freezers, tape recorders, television sets, VCRs, camcorders, answering
machines, microwave ovens, food processors, 'hi-liter' markers, glue sticks,
correction pens, copy machines, communication satellites, jet aircraft,
supersonic airliners, space shuttles, warehouse-type stores, postal codes,
portable hair dryers, home dishwashers or modern clothes dryers, to name
some. And there were very few kinds of plastic.
Courtship was a sort of contest in which
"he wooed her" and the best man won, or "she caught him"
("All her friends told her that he was a good catch.") If theirs
turned out to be a "bad" marriage, they most likely stayed married and
suffered in silence: Few people divorced because divorce was considered
shameful and immoral.
Sex was shameful, as well. It was taboo
to write about sex. The Kinsey Report (beginning with Sexual Behavior
in the Human Male, 1948) was considered quite shocking and the only
reason it was accepted was that it was written with appropriate detachment
by respected scientists. Pornography existed, but was always bought secretly,
usually owned with great shame and kept carefully hidden. Homosexuality
was illegal and carefully hidden. With rare exception, homosexual people
led secret lives.
As teens, we were terribly embarrassed
about going into the pharmacy to buy condoms-which for the most part we’d
never get to use (an embarrassing moment which would later be immortalised
in many a comedian’s routine). When a pregnant woman began “showing,” it
was customary for her to stop going out in public until after she had given
birth. The only permissible way to be sexual was to be married. (In the
mid sixties, a middle-aged couple, whose teenaged child was my student,
confided in me that they had gotten married because they were curious about
Sex between a man and a woman who were
unmarried was called “fornication” and it was illegal in most places. When
I made love the first time (outside of marriage), I felt guilty and afraid
that I would be found out.
To have a child “out of wedlock” was
so shameful that when a single woman became pregnant, it was likely that
she’d be sent away before it became evident, so she could give birth secretly.
Such a child was called a "bastard" and its "illegitimacy" was recorded
on the birth certificate. Throughout their lives, both mother and child
were looked down upon.
When I was a teen, during the early
days of television, the word "pregnant" was bleeped from the Jack Paar
Show. In the movies, men and women, married or not, were prohibited from
being shown in the same bed together unless they each had both their feet
on the floor. They certainly could not be shown in any form of undress
or lovemaking. As late as the mid 1980’s—when AIDS became a public
health concern—they troubled about whether they could even say the word
“condom” on television.
I would risk being looked down upon
if I became involved with someone not of my own race, religion or nationality.
Miscegenation—marriage or interbreeding between races—was illegal in many
places. A potential employer might ask my religion and deny me employment
as a result. It was not uncommon for men to change their names in order
to conceal their religion or nationality so that they could gain or keep
employment. This was a common practice among actors.
As a result of the high child mortality
rate, as well as the expectation that adult children would take care of
their ageing parents and the religious dictate “to be fruitful and multiply,”
it was considered good to have large families.
Doctors believed that infants’ nervous
systems were so undeveloped that it did not disturb them to circumcise
most male infants without anæsthesia.
People carefully avoided "washing their
dirty laundry in public." They tried to put on happy faces and keep their
personal lives to themselves. When I was in psychotherapy early in the
1960’s, my therapist had a separate entrance and exit from her office in
order to protect the identities of the incoming and outgoing clients.
Men worked outside the home and women
did not—except for subordinate care-providing jobs such as secretarial
work, waitressing, house cleaning, childcare, teaching, and nursing. Unless
the women had to work for financial reasons, these were generally understood
to be temporary positions, waiting places for marriage. Father knew best.
He was the indisputable head of the household; his word was law. His children
and wife were expected to obey him. In fact, the wedding vow was to "love,
honour, and obey." It was even believed by many that a husband had
the right to kill his cheating wife. But there was no complementary belief
for a wife.
The masculine pronoun was almost universally
used to speak for both genders, as though a woman had no separate point
of view, or her point of view was not important. The feminine pronoun,
"she", was absent from most conversation and writing—except when referring
concretely to a specific female. Both men and women spoke this way. Further,
virtually all research was done with male subjects and the results assumed
to be true for females, as well.
It was not very usual for a man to go
past high school or return to school once past school age. It was expected
that a man would stay for his whole lifetime in whatever career he had
chosen. Further, it was generally expected that a man would work for the
same company for his whole life, a company he most likely had joined in
The knowledge and methods of each trade
were carefully guarded "trade secrets." A leaky faucet or roof, a broken
refrigerator or piece of furniture required that the appropriate repairman
be summoned, because few city-dwellers knew how to make such repairs. Except
for farmers, for the most part there was no such thing as "do-it-yourself."
This guarding of information was equally true of the professions, such
as doctors and lawyers.
It was not unusual for white people
to expressly denigrate black, oriental and latin people—as well as women,
children, "mentally ill" and disabled people. They were all expected to
stay in their subordinate, disempowered place; they were permitted little
power—personal, political, or economic. With rare exception, Blacks could
not live in the same neighbourhoods, swim at the same beaches, go to the
same schools, stores, restaurants, night clubs or country clubs, be on
the same athletic teams as Whites, or hold upwardly mobile jobs. They were
expected to be "respectful" (read, self-demeaning) when they spoke
to white people. In the South, they even had to ride in the back of the
bus, drink from separate fountains and relieve themselves in separate lavatories;
and they had to fear arousing white peoples’ disfavour, lest they be fired,
beaten, jailed or lynched.
On those rare occasions that non-white
people (and women) appeared on the radio or in the movies they were generally
portrayed only as caricatures or in subordinate roles (e.g., Amos and Andy,
Charlie Chan, Step-’n-fetchit). This remained true during most of the first
twenty years of television, as well. During that period, on the rare occurrence
that a black person appeared on television, he or she was rarely portrayed
as a person of substance and his or her character was rarely well-developed.
Whether on television or in the movies, Blacks were not depicted as the
equals of Whites. And there were no non-white or female reporters or news
anchors on television.
It was safe to drink from most rivers
and streams and most people believed that we could throw anything in the
oceans and streams without any real or permanent effect. They thought that
the fish in the oceans were an unending source of food. It hardly seemed
possible that we could pull so many of them out of the oceans that they
would become extinct, that numerous animal species could become extinct
for lack of habitat, or that we could cut down so many trees in the forests
that wood would become scarce. There was no such thing as global warming
from destruction of the ozone layer. We didn’t even know there was an
ozone layer. Aside from big cities, there was relatively little air pollution.
I don’t think anyone knew it then, but
that was the end of one era and the beginning of another. Many extraordinary
changes were about to occur. In my view, there were a number of pivotal
and unpredictable "moments " that, in a significant confluence of events,
brought about these changes. These moments include: the Great Depression,
World War II, the atomic bomb, the G.I. Bill (in the U.S.), the prosperity
following World War II, television, the civil rights and women’s and other
rights movements, the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the popular use of "mind-altering"
drugs, the anti-war movement, the Interstate Highway system, jet travel,
space travel, the invention of the transistor, communication satellites,
and, most recently, the personal computer and the Internet.
A great deal of scientific energy was
expended by both sides during World War II in a massive effort to defeat
the enemy. This greatly accelerated technical progress and resulted, among
other things, in radar, reliable piston engines, the jet engine and the
When the soldiers returned, millions
of them bought inexpensive mass-produced houses (e.g., Levittown), and
found it financially necessary to perform their own repairs. Many of them,
in addition, brought back the skills they learned in the service. This
created what is now the huge "do-it-yourself" industry (e.g., Home Depot),
which began to disassemble the "wall of secrecy." This process has
become an "information revolution." It has continued until the present
and today the Internet has all but obliterated this wall. I fully believe
that the eradication of this wall will prove more important than that of
the Berlin Wall. For example, in the legal field this has led, among other
things, to do-it-yourself wills, incorporations, and divorces, totally
unheard of back then; and today the last bastion of privileged knowledge—medical
information and skills—are giving way, such that physician’s assistants
and nurse practitioners now perform many of physicians’ traditional duties,
psychologists in some locations now prescribe drugs, and any of us can
learn almost anything we want to know about health, illness and healing
from scores of self-help books and, of course, on the Internet.
Following World War II, the G.I. Bill
enabled millions of U.S. veterans to attend college and ultimately to advance
themselves financially far beyond where they could have ever have reached
before the war.
An enormous amount of factory capacity—which
had been devoted to the war effort—stood idle. When the veterans returned
home from World War II, after the deprivations of a long, painful economic
depression and four years of war, they were anxious to get on with their
lives and impatient for the good life and all that they had been deprived
of for so long. The war effort had put a lot of money in most people’s
pockets, so it was not long before this idle industrial capacity was devoted
to producing consumer products to sate their hunger.
It was not long, either, before the
remaining horse-drawn vehicles were replaced by the motorised kind, and
there became available a plethora of new products, such as home freezers,
modern clothes dryers, and inexpensive home air-conditioners (prior to
which we sought refuge from the summer heat in air conditioned movie theatres
or vacations in the country), Technicolor movies, 35 mm movie film and
theatres with wide screens, tape recorders, long-playing records, and jet
airliners and the Interstate Highway system, the means by which young people
would set out in the ‘60s to see the world.
And television. In North America, at
least, television soon brought the world intimately into everyone’s living
room. It’s difficult for anyone who wasn’t around before television to
grasp how different that has made, and continues to make each of our worlds.
Prior to television, we relied on verbal reporting and a few poor quality
photographs from a small number of people for most of what we knew about
the rest of the world. We experienced this distant world vicariously, e.g.,
through the reports of such adventurers as Lawrence of Arabia and Richard
Halliburton. It was a very poor substitute for being there, but it was
the best we had.
With the twist of a knob, we now easily
and eagerly watched a vast multiplicity of images of other places and other
people and, after 1954, in colour. We saw with our own eyes that other
people were in fact just like us, and came to realise that it was just
as immoral to kill a Vietnamese person as it was to kill one of us.
We saw with our own eyes films of President
Kennedy being shot...click...we watched his accused killer, Lee Harvey
Oswald, being shot to death while in police custody...click...we saw the
pyramids in Egypt...click...we watched a Viet Cong prisoner being shot
to death...click...we watched a Buddhist monk immolate himself on the streets
of Saigon...click...we watched civil rights marchers in Selma, Alabama,
being attacked by the police... click...we watched Neil Armstrong walk
on the moon. Moreover, what we were watching in Los Angeles was also being
seen by farmers in Saskatchewan, elderly ladies in Boston and teenagers
in Vancouver. Almost overnight, hardly anyone was isolated any longer.
The first generation raised with television
saw that there was an undeniable gulf between the vision their parents’
generation had fought for, of freedom for all, of all men being created
equal, of love for their fellow men, and the contrasting reality, such
as prejudice towards and mistreatment of Blacks, women, gays, and children,
or speaking of being peaceloving, yet being at war.
It seems to me that the use of psychedelic
drugs, particularly marijuana and LSD, was one of the important forces
that led a generation to so loudly question the status quo and to take
action. For example, they were advised by Timothy Leary to "Turn on, tune
in, and drop out." Having "turned on" they discovered that there were many
more ways to do and look at things than they previously could have imagined.
They developed their own paradigm, complete with its own values, dress,
music, art and language.
The 'nay-sayers' notwithstanding, the
drugs were the means by which many millions of young people came to see
themselves and their world in a way that was radically different than before;
and it led to an amazing renaissance: a period of self-revelation and self-discovery,
of passionate creativity in art, music, literature, and theatre, and in
the striving for peace, love and human rights to a degree that in my view
has not since even been approached.
The influence of folk singers and rock
groups like the Beatles in supporting and influencing this movement cannot
be overestimated. Their lyrics became the anthem for a generation. To the
parents, they were outrageous or simply made no sense. Their parents could
scarcely imagine what "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" was all about; but
This generation challenged the mores
of the day. They grew their hair long and wore bell-bottom pants, much
to their parents’ consternation. Such things seem unremarkable today, but
they greatly challenged the status quo at the time. They developed their
own "language," in which for example "bad" and "bitchin’" meant good. It
was a kind of secret language which, along with their dress, identified
themselves to one another, solidified their mutual bond and strengthened
their resolve. And they demanded peace and equality and put their bodies
on the line in their efforts to bring it about.
Detractors attack that generation as
being the "me" generation, as though concern for myself was a bad thing.
("Who do you think you are! When I say ‘no,’ I mean NO!") I see things
differently. First of all, although some indeed lived it out that way,
for most it was never simply a matter of "I’ll take what I want and the
hell with you," as the critics would have us think. It was a personal revolution,
a grass-roots awakening, a new realisation that I have a right to get what
I want for me; but, at the same time, it was also a realisation that you
have a right to reach for and get what you want for you and that
what we have to learn is to cooperate in pursuit of mutually satisfying
In my view, this was a part of the long
transition that is still going on, in what had been up to then a top-down
world; that is, one in which those at the top of the power structure dictated
to those below what they could and couldn’t do, be and have and in which
coercions like war were the way to solve conflict. It was a continuation
of the often painfully slow movement from the ancient "honour the king"
ethic to that of "honour each individual," which was illuminated by one
of its rallying cries, "Power to the People!"
If you weren’t at least a teenager prior
to the ‘60s, you are likely to have a difficult time understanding the
pressure to conform to those social mores and the demands of those in charge,
and the courage it took to oppose them. As late as 1971, for example, I
had a female client who desperately wanted to be a forest ranger, but could
not bring herself to struggle against the social norm that had excluded
women from that field.
During World War II, women by the millions
"manned" the assembly lines in the absence of the men who had gone off
to war. Many, in addition, raised their children on their own, under very
trying conditions. They discovered personal power that they could never
have had before the war. When the war was over, however, the men had to
make up for lost time. They went to school and/or picked up careers and
families left on hold during the war. The women who had experienced such
freedom and power were nevertheless obliged to leave the work force in
order to make room for the returning men and to start or care for their
families. For the most part, they were forced to settle back into the familiar
man as breadwinner and head of the family pre-war structures.
Although World War II tore people out
of their habitual way of life and provided the potential for social change,
they were stuck in the old paradigm. Real social change had to wait for
their children to reach early adulthood. It was the children who had the
consciousness, appetite, opportunity and freedom to explore the world and
to vigorously strive for social change.
In the 1960’s, these children had the
world out there brought into their living rooms in living colour. They
were curious to see the world for themselves. Having the luxury of financially
comfortable parents gave them the freedom to hit the road and to call home
when they ran out of money. Now able to travel high speed Interstate Highways
and jet aircraft, they set out to see the world.
No longer could politicians so easily
sway them simply by telling them what they wanted them to hear More and
more, they could see with their own eyes what was true. More and more,
they were unwilling to remain silent while they watched black people being
beaten or their classmates dying in a war in Vietnam that they could see
no justification for. As a result, they increasingly spoke out and demonstrated
their opposition to these many injustices (and brought about an amazing
number of changes). The imminence of atomic destruction, hanging like a
"Sword of Damocles" over all of their lives, gave urgency to their efforts.
Until the advent of "Nightline" in the
U.S. in 1981 (and programs such as "This Hour Has Seven Days," in Canada),
TV was largely a local affair, and it was mostly about events that had
already taken place. Since then, it has become common to see people at
different places around the world having live conversations with one another,
as well as with viewers who could just as easily be in London or Toronto
as in our own city. We have grown accustomed to watching events, even wars,
anywhere in the world as they are happening, day or night. Even our weather
reports, once local and often inaccurate affairs, since the advent of satellites
typically cover the whole country and with much greater accuracy.
This bespeaks what I believe is a remarkable
paradigm shift. From this new viewpoint, we can scarcely ignore the new
connections we now readily see between things. When we can look at the
whole earth from the space shuttle or the moon, it’s difficult not to realise
that the oceans are much smaller than they appear from the shore. When
we’re sitting in our living room watching children dying of hunger in Somalia
or viewing the damage in Honduras from Hurricane Mitch, they’re much more
difficult to ignore than when they were out of sight and virtually out
of mind. And it’s much more difficult to demonise people enough to consider
going to war against them when we can see their faces and watch them in
their everyday activities on our television sets.
There have been innumerable changes
since I arrived on this planet. Today, it is commonplace at any age to
return to school to earn a high school diploma or a college degree. It
is commonplace, as well, for women and non-white people to attend college
and to occupy virtually all levels of business and society. And it is not
strange for someone to have several careers in his or her lifetime. Today
we expect and consider desirable that a person will work for several companies
during his or her work life.
It is no longer taboo to reveal ourselves
to others and people can and do tell their "stories." Today, for example,
psychotherapy is a standard benefit on most health insurance policies,
and there are a plethora of self-revealing talk shows on television, as
well as dramas and documentaries in which the most personal themes are
We have kneeling busses, ramped curbs,
handicapped parking, handicapped access, "closed-captioning" and people
"signing" on television in consideration of hearing impaired people, audible
traffic signals for blind people, and ethics in human experimentation,
all of which would have been scoffed at when I was a kid.
Unmarried sexual partners can and do
live together, and they—and single people—even have children without shame
or, for that matter, notice.
Women and non-White people appear everywhere
on the media and this has got to have a significant and positive effect
on our young children’s view of them.
When Marshall McLuhan prophesied in
the late ‘60’s, that the world would become a global village, it was at
that time only a dawning recognition of things to come. It is now a reality.
Today, we think almost nothing of flying off to almost any place on Earth.
It would raise few eyebrows if I were to fly to London for the weekend
or to San Francisco for lunch.
Jet travel has truly shrunk the world.
It has significantly reducing the time and cost of long distance travel
and has greatly increased its safety and comfort. Travellers no longer
have to be well-off, adventurous, or persevering. Such travel has become
as common as was bus travel when I was a kid. Almost anyone can now travel
with ease to nearly any place on the planet. Nowadays, most anyone can
fly nearly everywhere—Sydney, Capetown, Beijing, Moscow—in just a matter
We have obviously made enormous technological
progress, and even considerable social progress. Our concern for our fellow
humans, our understanding of how we affect each other and of how to caringly
and effectively communicate with one another has grown; in some ways, remarkably.
Black people can now largely live where they wish, eat in any restaurant,
stay in any lodging, go to any school, swim at any beach, sit anywhere
on a bus, choose any career they desire. Black, oriental and latin people,
as well as women and disabled people commonly populate my television screen,
schools, political bodies and the business world at virtually all levels.
Today, most children, at least in the U.S. and Canada, can pursue whatever
education and career they desire. Today, we are aware of and concerned
about sexual harassment, abuse of children, discrimination, women’s and
It is clear that change will continue
at a rapid pace into the foreseeable future and that we will have to learn
far better than we have how to deal successfully with change. It is also
clear that these human achievements are very new and that there is no guarantee
that they will endure.
Further, it is evident that prejudice,
cheating, abuse, scarcity, hunger, crime, war and other violences still
exist in generous proportions. And it is evident that we have scarcely
learned to deal responsibly with our psychological pain or with our sexuality,
with being spouses, parents or intimates, or even with being friends.
Today, the population of the world is
about three times what it was when I was born. It seems clear
to me that it is in large measure because of this growth that virtually
all life forms are at risk. There are now few rivers and streams that are
safe to drink from, worldwide air pollution is a major problem, as are
global warming and the disappearing ozone layer. We’ve damaged and continue
to damage the planet. Many species throughout the ecosphere have become
extinct and are disappearing at an unprecedented rate, and we are facing
the possibility—perhaps still in my lifetime—of not being able to feed
ourselves from the sea.
The very fact that we now speak of the
"planet" instead of the "world" or the "Earth" illuminates the vast changes
that have taken place. When we say "world" or "Earth," we have an earthbound
perspective. When we say "planet," our perch is in outer space. No longer
locked into seeing the Earth only from "down here," we realise that it
is not an endless expanse, but a small, finite and fragile planet, with
limited resources that are in danger of running out.
It has become evident, too, that these
conditions cannot be wiped out simply by fiat or wishful thinking. And
I’m scared that if we don’t soon deal successfully with them, the outcome
can only be dire.
Santayana maintained that those who
cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. I believe that if
we don’t know where we’ve come from—if we don’t have a clear and accurate
historical perspective—we will have difficulty getting where we want to
go. I keep discovering that most of the people I deal with—in fact, most
of the people alive today—are too young to realise how things were then
and how enormously life has changed just in the short span of my lifetime.
So it seemed that it would be useful to draw this picture. I hope it proves
to be so.
E. Linn, Ph.D. • Empowering People