Grasping the Spirit of “the Good Old Days”
AMERICAN basketball player Julius Erving was interviewed after having signed a 3.5-million-dollar contract to play ball. It is reported that when Erving was asked: “Is there anything you want that you still can’t buy?” he answered: “There might be emotional or spiritual things that no one can buy, but nothing material.”
By his comment, this millionaire basketball player may have touched on a basic reason why so many people today speak longingly of “the good old days.” Whereas in many parts of the earth persons are experiencing unprecedented material or technological progress, many are still not content. The fact is that the satisfying of our emotional and spiritual needs is not related, necessarily, to the material goods that we have. Nor can we buy emotional and spiritual satisfaction. In fact, the efforts that many persons put forth to get more money for advanced technical things today often interfere with satisfying their basic spiritual and emotional needs.
Jesus himself called attention to the fact that humans are not just materialists. Once when Jesus was hungry and the Devil urged him to misuse his miraculous power by turning stones into bread, Jesus replied: “It is written, ‘Man must live, not on bread alone, but on every utterance coming forth through Jehovah’s mouth.’” (Matt. 4:1-4) Jesus thus called attention to the fact that we are not mere animals with physical needs so that the more abundantly these are supplied the happier we automatically must be. Rather, humans have spiritual and emotional needs too. And if these are not being satisfied, we will not be truly happy or find real joy in living.
Partially illustrating this is what was noted by some researchers at the University of Connecticut. They studied seventy-five men who had given up executive jobs for lower-paying positions that would mean less pressure on them. The result? Even though the men could not have as much materially, they “often had happier lives and better marriages.” Another recent study of successful speculators in the stock market indicated that they tended to be failures in romance. Why? It appears that their self-involvement with moneymaking ‘precluded them from getting close to someone else.’
So, while many persons find that they have more money and material things than in past years, they still may be fondly recalling “the good old days.” True, years ago most persons had to work hard to earn a living, often putting in longer hours than is common today. But it was normally a matter of their working to get the basic necessities of life, and then enjoying them. On the other hand, today many persons are desperately pursuing ever more advanced technical products, but the fact is that the acquisition of these seems to bring them less real satisfaction. The counsel of the wise man is thus even more appropriate today:
“For what does a man come to have for all his hard work and for the striving of his heart with which he is working hard under the sun? For all his days his occupation means pains and vexation, also during the night his heart just does not lie down. This too is mere vanity. With a man there is nothing better than that he should eat and indeed drink and cause his soul to see good because of his hard work.”—Eccl. 2:22-24.
Yes, the spirit of things seems to be different today. Because many persons in our time are seeing less ‘good for all their hard work,’ they tend to yearn for “the good old days.”
FRIENDS AND FAMILY
Another thing that appeals to many about years gone by is the fact that people then seemed friendlier. You got to know other people as friends. Neighbors were not simply persons living nearby—they were also friends. There was less attention to material things and more attention to personal relationships.
In this regard, when millionaire basketball player Julius Erving was asked: “Are there any drawbacks to having a lot of money?” he replied:
“You’re a target in many respects. It’s difficult to have a genuinely open relationship. You have to read people, you have to have your suspicions. The vast majority are going to be acquaintances. You can say ‘friend,’ but it really means acquaintance.”
Erving was simply confirming the Bible’s proverbs: “Wealth is what adds many companions, but one that is lowly gets separated even from his companion. . . . Everybody is a companion to the man making gifts.” (Prov. 19:4, 6) That was usually the situation in King Solomon’s day. And it is often the case today when ‘what you have’ or ‘what you can get’ seems so important to many. And, clearly, the scarcity of real friends is not the problem of just the wealthy. Today’s exaggerated emphasis on possessions rather than relationships causes persons of all statuses to lack true friends. They therefore are inclined to yearn for “the good old days.”
Also related to the “spirit” of that past time is the situation in the family. Years ago family members did not constantly “isolate” themselves from each other in front of a television or a motion-picture screen. Nor did they have the sophisticated means of transportation that enable modern parents and youths to “zoom” away at high speeds in different directions. Families did more things as a unit. The members were closer. Often entire families joined in reading the Bible together, responding to the spiritual need that the Creator implanted in humans. This also contributed to more family conversation.
WHAT TO DO
But what is the value of being aware of these good aspects or the “spirit” that was more common in “the good old days”? Can we change how things are now?
The fact is that we personally cannot undo all the technical progress that has been made. Nor do we necessarily want to, such as by trying to live as our great-grandparents did. Today is today. We have to face that fact. What would be the point of dwelling overmuch on what was?
In a sense this corresponds with the import of the inspired counsel: “Do not say: ‘Why has it happened that the former days proved to be better than these?’ for it is not due to wisdom that you have asked about this.” (Eccl. 7:10) There is no wisdom in unrealistically dwelling on the past as if everything then was fine and nothing is now.
We can take this to heart today too. It certainly is true that, despite man’s technical advancement, some persons are still starving. Others are resorting to crime as a means of livelihood, and the general moral climate is truly getting worse. But there is no need for a person’s outlook to be predominantly negative.
That is well illustrated with the positive, optimistic spirit of Jehovah’s Witnesses, who are not preoccupied with nostalgic remembrances of “the good old days.” Jehovah’s Witnesses have found that study of the Bible enables them to satisfy now their spiritual and emotional needs in a way that is even beyond what many older persons recall fondly about “the good old days.”
Really, is it not what one could expect, that study of the Bible helps one to satisfy spiritual and emotional needs? Jehovah God provided the Bible. Not only is he our Creator, the One who best knows our deepest emotional needs and how we can satisfy these, but he also made us so that we could appreciate our spiritual need, our need to worship him. The psalmist truthfully wrote:
“The law of Jehovah is perfect, bringing back the soul. . . . The orders from Jehovah are upright, causing the heart to rejoice; the commandment of Jehovah is clean, making the eyes shine. The fear of Jehovah is pure, standing forever. The judicial decisions of Jehovah are true; they have proved altogether righteous. . . . In the keeping of them there is a large reward.”—Ps. 19:7-11.
By studying and applying God’s Word, you can receive intense emotional and spiritual satisfaction. When this is done as a family, just as Jehovah himself recommends, all the family members are drawn closer to one another and closer to their Father in heaven. Hence, while not renouncing the accomplishments and benefits of man’s material progress, persons are not left as frustrated materialists or idle dreamers about the past.
There is also the resulting blessing of becoming part of a group of persons who form genuine friendships. In Religious Movements in Contemporary America (1974) Lee R. Cooper presents his observations on some black Jehovah’s Witnesses living in a large city. He came to see that “in their own congregational life Witnesses form a genuine community of trust and acceptance.” And he concluded that “the Jehovah’s Witnesses offer [a person] an alternative life strategy that gives its adherents a way to find identity and self-respect, a community of acceptance, and hope for the future.” That hope centers on God’s promise to do away with, not only the undesirable aspects of man’s technical advancement, but also the effects of human imperfection. It is true that the present is correctly described in the Bible as the “last days” marked by many persons’ being ‘lovers of themselves, lovers of money, self-assuming, haughty, disobedient to parents, unthankful, having no natural affection, not open to any agreement, without self-control, headstrong, lovers of pleasures rather than lovers of God.’ (2 Tim. 3:1-4) But God assures us that he will soon change things.
He will accomplish this by wiping wickedness off the face of the earth and by establishing a new order of righteousness. Describing that time, which the evidence shows will shortly be here, Revelation 21:4 says: “And [God] will wipe out every tear from their eyes, and death will be no more, neither will mourning nor outcry nor pain be anymore. The former things have passed away.” A similar prophecy in Isaiah 65:17 states: “For here I am creating new heavens and a new earth; and the former things will not be called to mind, neither will they come up into the heart.” The conditions that God will provide will be so thoroughly better in every way than what formerly existed that there will be no reason for nostalgia. Yes, at that time there will be no impulse to yearn for “the good old days.”
If you would like to know more about the good days soon to come, Jehovah’s Witnesses will happily aid you in studying the Bible so that you too can find great satisfaction in life right now and the assured “hope for the future” that is a recognized aspect of their lives.