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20 things to bring into the 21st century, Part 2

Sorting the Century

11. Respect for our elders
by Missy Kline

What has happened to "respect your elders" or "age is wisdom?" Somehow we have lost sight of these. The people of late 20th century have adopted the MTV view of our fellow citizen. We seem to feel that if a person is not young and healthy they have little to offer to society.

There are almost 62 million Americans over the age of 50. This is the first time in our nation's history that the senior population has outnumbered the teen-age population. Yet our society still emphasizes youth and devalues our seniors. You hear on the news how medical researchers are looking for the "cure" for aging. We visualize the aged and retired as having reached the end of their usefulness — not working or contributing to family or society.

It is time to see age as what it is — another valuable stage in life — a stage in which a person has gathered all of his or her varied life experiences, talents and wisdom together to pass on to the next generation. Our current senior generation has been through the First and Second World Wars, the Great Depression, the civil rights movement, the women's rights movement, and the advent of airplanes, radios, televisions, microwaves, VCRs, and computers. We should be embarrassed that our youth have failed to take advantage of the talents and wisdom of our seniors. Is it better to abandon the "old ways" and only look to the future? We can all agree that it is important to learn from our past — where better to learn about it than from our seniors?

First, let's listen to our seniors. Let them tell us what they have experienced and how it has changed their lives. What they tell us about their life experiences may not always be pleasant, but what they have to say can be a valuable tool to help us move forward. We can use their experiences to learn how to deal with the many current issues as well as many yet to come. Because of what they have done in their lives, seniors are invaluable advisors.

Also, we must learn to respect and appreciate seniors for their contributions and accomplishments. It was their hard work and ingenuity that helped build this country. It was also their teaching that helped mold our lives into what they are today. These are the foundations of our everyday life, and should not go unnoticed by later generations now reaping the rewards. We should look on these people with gratitude and honor instead of apathy.

Lastly, we must make sure this ideal of respect and appreciation of one's elders gets passed down to our children and grandchildren. Today, messages directed at youth through music, movies and television, tend to show seniors and adults as incompetents. In many of these messages, it is only the young who are intelligent enough to lead society. This stereotyping is harmful. Knowing the importance of adults and seniors, we must take a stand and, as mentors, instill in today's youth the ideal of respect that has been lost.

If we are not to be doomed to repeat the failures of the past, we need to look to those who have lived there to guide us to a brighter future. We can and should look forward to this new millennium with hope and vision for the future, but we should do so armed with the guidance and wisdom of our elders.

Missy Kline is a licensed clinical social worker and manager of care coordination for the Capital Area Agency on Aging.

12. A vibrant democracy
by John V. Moeser

[image-1]Photo by Scott ElmquistRobert Maynard Hutchins, the former chancellor of the University of Chicago, once said, "The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference and undernourishment."

While history is replete with examples of democracy in other parts of the world dying from ambush, at least in the context of the United States, Hutchins' observation is worth considering. Relative to his comment, the state of affairs in metropolitan Richmond and many other communities across the country today is deeply troubling. Local democracy is practically starving to death. Inasmuch as the basic tenet of democratic rule is the popular election of policymakers, the most direct measure of a healthy democracy is the number of citizens casting ballots in elections. By that measure, local democracy is severely malnourished.

Take the most recent local elections, for example. Last November, when Chesterfield citizens elected members to the Board of Supervisors, less than a quarter of the eligible voting population (people 18 and over) bothered to vote — 23 percent to be exact. In Henrico, the turnout was lower still, only 19.5 percent. When city residents cast their ballots last May during the City Council election, turnout was a paltry 14 percent!

Isn't local government supposed to be the incubator of democracy? Given the lack of enthusiasm among area residents for exercising their most elemental responsibility of citizenship, the political process in the Capital Area seems to be incubating, not public spiritedness and a government of, by, and for the people, but a state of sheer boredom.

Social scientists attribute low turnout to a variety of factors — apathy, alienation, even satisfaction with the status quo — but regardless of the rationale, the fact is that the level of participation is lowest at the level of government that most directly affects everyday life. It's not Congress or the state legislature that operates our schools, provides our drinking water, polices our streets, rescues our children, extinguishes the fire next door or picks up the garbage. They don't zone our land or issue building permits. The place where we first learned to vote; the place where we first learned right from wrong and how to treat our neighbor; the place where we first came to grips with the great issues of the day, issues like justice and equality; the place where we first learned what it means to live in a democracy is the place where we grew up.

As our nation ages, we must restore what our forebears fought so hard to achieve; namely, a vibrant civic culture where exercising the right to vote becomes a moral responsibility, and where a belief in the common good captures our collective imagination and unleashes our noblest instincts. Simply pulling the lever on the voting machine is just the beginning. Authentic democracy calls for citizens to be fully engaged in the life of the community, from participating in a neighborhood watch and enlisting in the PTA to involvement in public forums and communicating with legislators about public policy.

Failing to assume the responsibilities associated with democratic rule makes a mockery of the enormous sacrifices that others have made to extend the franchise. To secure the vote for the landless, for women, and for people of color, required enormous courage by those outraged by the contradiction between constitutional principles and political reality. We today have cheapened their sacrifice by opting out of the electoral process. All we have to do to understand what democracy really means is to witness elections in Asia, Africa or any other part of the world where democracy, after great struggle, has replaced dictatorship. There, one will find literally thousands upon thousands of newly enfranchised citizens, many without shoes and with just rags cloaking their frail bodies, waiting in long, meandering lines for hours to do what they had never before been allowed to do — vote. Meanwhile, if they were to witness us, surely they would wonder why, with all our material advantages and sophistication, we prefer to stay at home on election day. If local democracy goes under, it shouldn't die without a heroic struggle to defend it. Killing it by sheer indifference would be the ultimate tragedy and disgrace.

John V. Moeser is professor of urban studies and planning at Virginia Commonwealth University.

13. Sex

If the last part of the 20th century was successful in anything, it was in killing off the biological mandate for intercourse. Sex is no longer a necessary part of the procreation equation. Therefore, what may have seemed too obvious to list deserves a deliberate mention here. Let's bring sex into the 21st century — just for the fun of it.

14. The man's hat

[image-2]Once a staple of the century, the stylish man's hat has been abandoned by all but the highly eccentric, the decrepitly old and the retro hipster. The irony is, almost any male head is improved by one of these sporty numbers. Look at all those old movies. Sure Cary Grant looked like a million bucks in a fedora, but even your dad and your granddad look sharp and manly wearing their hats in those old pictures. It's time to flip off all those Hootie-esque, little-boy baseball caps and grow up. Dude, get a real hat.

15. Outdoor murals

There was quite the fuss this last year about outdoor murals on Richmond's buildings. The city, with its infinite rules for what constitutes a "sign" versus a painting, in an attempt to regulate these things into oblivion, inadvertently invigorated the civic appreciation for murals. It's true, most of our murals are painted on the sides of restaurant buildings, and they are indeed signs. Heck, we at Style even have our name writ large on the side of our building. But these murals add color, and more importantly, surprise to the cityscape. A chance to catch something new and unexpected out of the corners of our eyes. To say they beautify might be too much a matter of opinion, but they clearly discourage graffiti. And they are a far sight better than the gnarly billboards up and down stretches of Cary Street in the Fan and downtown. Let's not only keep them up, let's see a few more — and not just signs, but art for art's sake.

16. Comfort Foods

[image-3]Photo by Chad HuntSure, confit of duck with a wasabi demi-glace and cilantro cream coulis is nice once in a while, but we'd like to move into the next millennium with meatloaf and mashed potatoes on our plates. Give us simple, homey comfort foods: tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, rice pudding, roasted chicken, fresh baked bread, vanilla ice cream, pork chops and applesauce, and macaroni and cheese. The only caveat is that for comfort foods to really satisfy, they have to be made at home. That's right, we're going to have to bring our pots and pans, cookbooks and home-economics skills with us too. No pre-processed, chemically preserved foods allowed. Heck, let's even do some thing really drastic and turn off the television, sit down at the table with our families and enjoy our meals over polite conversation. Now that's good eatin'.

17. The values of private education

An understanding of different learning styles. A willingness to focus on the individual. A curriculum that motivates a child to productivity. Teachers who love their work, believe in their students and are compensated fairly for their abilities. Let's bring the values of private education with us, and let them loose in the halls of public schools everywhere.

18. TV

The revolution was televised; no, television was the revolution. The war in Vietnam erupted out of a small box into our living rooms. From our dorm rooms and classrooms and offices we witnessed the astronauts on the Challenger make haste to heaven. The Berlin Wall tumbled down, Alexander Haig almost staged a coup, Mary Tyler Moore survived the big city, and, invariably, the best-looking, tallest candidate won. If it didn't happen on TV, it did not happen.

Without a doubt, TV has been the single most influential force in this country in the second half of the 20th century. Sure, they put a man on the moon, but who showed it to you? TV, that's who.

TV may not always be good for us, but it's been good to us. It's the friend who always tells you what you want to hear, the department-store mirror that makes you look so skinny. It has bent our reality and created its own — one that we, in turn, have strived to live. TV has created us in its own image.

Despite the staunch protestations of a few anti-TV snobs, we know that we simply cannot live without TV in the 21st century. Thank goodness we won't have to.

19. Film

When Ralph Fiennes carries Kirstin Scott Thomas across the dunes of the North African desert in "The English Patient," human hearts stop beating. Every time. This is a moment that cannot be adequately reproduced in the square confines of video. It demands the expansive, saturated space of film. But film is not forever — celluloid is as fragile as any fresco or Old Master painting. Not anticipating that the collective work of thousands of filmmakers would eventually constitute a national treasure, no one made an effort to catalog and preserve these documents. And somewhere among the mountains of film reel are diamonds about to be lost forever. According to the American Film Institute, "of the more than 21,000 feature films produced in the United States before 1951, only half exist today." In fact, every heart-stopping kiss, every horrifying burst of gore, every triumphal explosion, every movie you have ever seen, is prey to the ravages of time. Without vigorous efforts by a new class of curators, the great masterworks of film will be as ancient cities, buried under the sands of time.

20. Our keys

We certainly don't want to forget them.

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