Are the Events of 2020 Really Unprecedented?
Many people are calling today’s events unprecedented: between the worldwide pandemic, the recession, and the race riots, a lot of people feel like they are living through times that are unlike anything that has come before. However, as many older adults know very well, some aspects of these events are in fact similar to past moments in history. Do you remember having to stay out of swimming pools because of the risk of catching polio? Do you remember the rioting that broke out in more than 120 cities after Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968? What about the Great Depression? Were your parents out of work? Now more than ever, older adults have an important role to play in helping us all put today’s big events into context.
Of course, there may also be things about 2020 that do feel unique, and older members of the community can be just as important in helping to point out what is truly unprecedented about these times. What feels similar to you, and what feels different, when you compare today’s events to your memories of the past? The world is a different place—it is more interconnected by more advanced technology, and there are more people living in countries that were not their birthplace. What other changes have you noticed? The older generation has valuable wisdom to share about the ways in which aspects of Covid-19 and Black Lives Matter would have been impossible just a few decades earlier.
That being said, older adults, for all their wisdom, are themselves experiencing today’s events from a different vantage point than they experienced the Great Depression and the Civil Rights Movement. Those who were around in the 1930s were just young kids, still learning about the economy and what it meant for many people to lose their jobs. Those who were around in America in the 1960s may have been young or middle-aged, and this may have affected the way they felt about the riots, peaceful protests, and new laws passed. While older adults can use their wisdom to help us compare the present to the past, the difference between their perspective then and their perspective now might make it challenging to draw comparisons. How has your perspective changed, and how does it affect the way you experience the events of 2020?
Even as many older people choose to remain isolated to protect themselves from the pandemic, society needs their wisdom now more than ever. Fortunately, the Internet makes it possible to share and connect from the safety of our own homes. In the comments below, feel free to share your stories and perspectives.
Eve Driver is a freelance feature contributor and a graduate of Harvard University. She writes on a variety of topics including aging, climate change, and political polarization. Her work has appeared in Harvard Magazine and the Harvard Political Review.