"If its any consolation, your grandparents probably thought the same thing about you."
So I drove an little ancient lady from King's Barn to the airport. She was a sweet little lady from Germany. Her Swedish was perfect, so I asked her if she was going back to visit family.
"No no, I live there! But I lived in Sweden in the 1950s, when I worked at the general consulate. That's when I learned the language."
The conversation went on, and it turned toward (as it inevitably does when speaking to Germans) the topic of Nazis. She told me that Germany was filled with Nazis these days (which nastier people than I might consider a truism); a reflection of the current political climate in Europe, where old ideas like fascism, xenophobia and populism is rearing its dickish head all over the continent. Germany was no exception. Even though Nazism is outlawed there, its hard to police people's thoughts, feelings and chimpish instincts. She also said that anti-semitism was on the rise, especially among Germany's youth. This due to the conflict in Israel and Palestine and that jews were being portrayed as the bad guys. Of course there's a distinction between Israelis and jews in general, but try telling that to the wannabe members of the Master Race.
Then it shifted. The conversation took a nasty turn. She started talking about how the Arabs were the real villains in all this and that Islam and Christianity were completely incompatible. She described it as Judaism and Christianity going well together, because Christianity is the little brother of Judaism. I suppose that makes Islam the creepy cousin nobody is really related to who overstays his welcome, eats all the food and makes weird advances toward your hamster.
"Its a simple fact. Islam and Christianity has nothing in common and Muslims and Christians are totally incompatible."
The irony of course is that if you look at the doctrine, the view of humanity and the view of the divine, you'll find that Islam and Christianity have far more things in common than either one of them has with Judaism. Not that it matters - most Christians and aren't compatible with most Christians. And even if Christianity is the little brother of Judaism, well... consistent attempted fratricide should suggest that bonds of blood aren't quite so secure as they might seem.
In summary, she had just spent a sizable amount of time talking about how horribly easy it is to demonize the Other, and then gone on to do the exact same thing. She simply didn't see the parallel, and I didn't want to turn this into a debate. She was a sweet old lady, and wasn't really speaking out of hate, but out of ignorance. So we simply talked. I listened. We had a good discussion, and finally agreed to disagree.
When we arrived at the airport, I got out and brought her her bags. She got out of the car and said: "You're a very nice boy and you're very young. You have a lot to experience" -which is true, though my male pattern baldness disagrees- "You're very young and I'm old. I've seen so much."
I said to her: "Well, the next time I drive you, hopefully you can tell me about that."
She smiled and grabbed me gently by the arm. "Before I go, I want you to know something. I was one of the Jews that fled to Sweden through Denmark during the Holocaust."
I smiled and squeezed her hand gently. "In that case, I'm very happy to have met you."
There are some that say that age is not an excuse. That old age cannot excuse racism, homophobia, and intolerance. I don't completely agree. Old age does not excuse cruelty. But it does excuse ignorance. When you're old, you've lived an entire lifetime. You've had your entire life to discover the world, realize what a strange and chaotic place it is, and create order in it by finding values and views that make sense to you. This is what we call 'getting set in your ways', this process of formulating a functioning view of the world. A functioning system. Whether or not that system is in line with reality is not relevant - to keep your mind open is hard enough for most people. For someone who's had a functioning view of the world for the past century, its not merely about going that extra step of seeing beyond your prejudices - its about not having to spend another century rebuilding your understanding of reality.
That stereotype of the old man, shaking his cane and saying: "Damn kids, you have it too easy! Back in my day, we dragged ourselves by the nipples ten miles down a frozen road covered in badgers to write a letter! We didn't have your fancy iPhones! If we wanted to send a message, we had to write it in our nipple blood, gadnabbit!"
Never mind progress. The importance of scouring off your nipples as a part of correspondence remains, and whatever happens in the modern world is stupid and irrelevant, because it is not a part of the old timer's reality. And here's the thing: You and me? We'll be just the same. One day, I'll be snarling and hawing about "damn kids who spend all their time in the Matrix and beat up dark skinned people for fun, while back in our day we used our smart phones and were tolerant and we liked it, gadnabbit!"
The kids of the future will consider me crazy, because in that time and place, My views will seem old fashioned at best and offensive at worst.
I know where I my values lie and I maintain them, I believe in them. That doesn't mean that the rest of the world agrees, or that I must be right.
So I cannot blame the old lady. This woman had seen so much. She had experienced that oppression first hand. She had managed to survive and avoid one of the worst experiences in modern history. She had lived with this. I cannot blame her for her views. I can't hold them against her. I do believe she's wrong. I believe her views are narrow minded and based on false assumptions, but even so I cannot blame her for them.
Perhaps that's a point of view I need to bring with me. In the end, the old generation has a lot to teach us, but there's a reason why you don't ask Albert Einstein about the best way to handle your social media (another such reason is that necromancy is generally considered a bad thing). It's a concept that doesn't exist for him, so its pointless to ask, regardless of how brilliant he was in life.
As a part of the "damn kids" (and I've recently left my twenties behind, so I'm only an honorary member of that group) I see so much more than the elderly see, but they have seen so much more than I have seen. And the thing about old ways, is that they die with the people who believe in them. And the narrow minded elderly don't have much time left on earth. They won't be heavy voices shifting the balance of the world in or out of your favour. They won't be rallying people to their cause (although there is an elderly Nazi blogger in Sweden who is adored by the nationalist fuckheads in this country, so I could be very wrong there).
Perhaps the we should forgive our parents and grandparents . Applaud them for whatever wisdom they can give us, ignore whatever foolishness life has given them, and understand that there's already an even younger generation who will look at our views and our understanding and find it absolutely idiotic.