The temptation of nostalgia

Nostalgia. I don’t like it. But I hear it all the time. Even in my First Aid instruction last week the instructor made reference to how we should intervene in cases of emergency and offer to help. He then said, “Even in these times there are people who want to help”, inferring that “in these times” people would be reluctant to help. He was also inferring that in the past people would have been more willing to help. That may be true, I happen to agree that our social connections with each other are frayed, that we now silo ourselves into others who agree with us, live like us, think like us. So reaching beyond our demographic is problematic. So I do agree that “in the past” people were more likely to know, and perhaps to care, about people different than they. BUT, and this is a HUGE but, back then this reaching beyond demographics was across income lines but it was not beyond race, religion or ethnicity. Talk to anyone “back then” and you’ll hear horror stories about Catholics and Protestants who wanted to marry only to discover that their families would disown them if they did. And do I have to remind you about race relations in this city? How about residential schools?

And what about women? In my mother’s era she was told by the guidance counsellor she could be a teacher, a secretary or a nurse. Compare that to what the guidance counsellor will tell my daughter. It’s hard to be nostalgic in the face of such facts.

This week I read two articles that reminded me how far we have come on the matter of gender equality. The first relates to former Front Page Challenge panelist Betty Kennedy. Betty’s mother was not so sure about a journalism career for her daughter. But “refusing to follow her mother’s advice, Betty climbed the stairs to the office of the Ottawa Citizen and asked to speak to the city editor. She told him she was looking for a writing job. The editor said they wanted a boy. Betty replied that she could do anything a boy can do. A week later, in the summer of 1942, 16-year-old Betty Styran began working full-time at the newspaper for $12.50 a week. Her boss said that since there was already a Betty and a Margaret in the newsroom, and they’d intended to hire a boy, she would be called Gus. Ms. Kennedy wrote in her autobiography that she was Gus for a very long time.

And then today I read the cover story in The Coast, a local Halifax paper. It profiled local Minister Rhonda Britton who has pastored Cornwallis Street Baptist Church for that last 10 years. As the Coast records, “Britton was born in balmy Jacksonville, Florida, the self-proclaimed Bold New City of the South. Later, growing up in New Jersey, she was a devout church-goer. Britton says she was first called to the Ministry at age 15. But she didn't know what it meant. She said she didn't have any experience in discerning a call. Britton grew up Baptist. There were no female ministers. So she just figured she was misunderstanding something.

Britton and Kennedy’s stories reflect a change in our perception of women’s roles. Before you offer up a nostalgic rant about how bad things are now, how good things were then, remember their stories.