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The Generation of Risk Takers that Evolved from the ‘Stone Age’


Gregory J. Rummo

Making the rounds on the Internet is one of those e-mails forwarded to everybody and his mother. This one describes the common, every-day dangers we faced growing up as kids in the 50s and 60s. After reading through it I couldn’t help wonder how we managed to survive in a world that by today’s standards would be deemed stone-age and in some cases, downright dangerous.

The simple advantage of living in a civilized country in the Western World provided some measure of safety. But there are other reasons why more of us weren’t maimed or killed before our time.

The e-mail begins with unsafe activities like riding in cars before the advent of air bags or seat belts or in the bed of a pick-up. With fewer cars on the road a half century ago, it was statistically safer to drive. But we weren’t in such a hurry either to get to wherever it was we were going.

We all had a little more of something called time—a shrinking commodity that 21st century conveniences were supposed to create more of. But the more time we have, the faster we burn it up multitasking our way through life. We drive at least 65 MPH while talking on a cell phone, listening to the radio and sipping a cup of scalding coffee. We can’t even watch the news on television without a simultaneous scrawl of headlines across the bottom of the screen. The time—in three time zones—flashes in a small box just above Wall Street’s closing prices and slightly to the left of the local, five-day forecast.

The e-mail goes on to cite other dangers like cribs covered with lead-based paint, no childproof lids on medicine bottles, riding bicycles without helmets and drinking water from the garden hose, not from a bottle of spring water.

Cribs covered with lead paint and medicine bottles without childproof caps didn’t present a danger because Mom didn’t have to work. She stayed home with us while Dad played the role of breadwinner. We weren’t left to rot like prisoners in a crib where, out of boredom, we’d gnaw on the lead-painted rails. We couldn’t get into the medicine cabinet and chow down on those pretty colored pills because Mom always had one eye on us (although one time I remember my mother frantically reaching into my mouth to remove a wad of orange flavored Aspergum that I had decided tasted pretty good).

Dad taught music in a New York City public school. I never remember him grumbling about his salary. He was thankful for his job and somehow, we managed. Dad made enough to buy a modest house and support Mom and me. My parents paid less than $6,000 for our first home, a small white Cape Cod with black shutters in the suburbs of Westchester County, NY.

Bicycles weren’t safer. They were just ridden with both hands on the handlebars, both feet on the pedals and both wheels on the ground. Grinding was reserved for coffee beans and peppercorns.

Tap water was safe to drink because it wasn’t contaminated with traces of millions of different organic chemicals, heavy metals, radioactive thorium and bacteria or if it was, we didn’t know. We were too busy eating dirt to worry about drinking out of a garden hose anyway.

“We would leave home in the morning and play all day,” the e-mail reminisces. “As long as we were back when the streetlights came on… We got cut and broke bones and broke teeth and there were no lawsuits from these accidents [because] …no one was to blame but us. We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and learned to get over it.”

“We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X Boxes… 99 channels on cable, [or] video taped movies. We had friends. We went outside and found them. We …walked to a friend's home and knocked on the door, or rung the bell or just walked in and talked to them.”

We interacted with each other on a personal basis. There was no hiding behind firewalls in chat rooms and message boards or using e-mail to tell people things you’d never think of saying to their face. Personal responsibility, forgiving one another without the thought of litigation and the absence of victimhood, a word so new my spell check just flagged it—such was life in America when I was a child.

I turned out OK and I am willing to bet you did too despite having grown up in a risk filled, lead-laced, laissez-faire, germ-ridden, non-litigious, electronically deprived society.

The e-mail concludes: “[That] generation …produced some of the best risk-takers, problem solvers and inventors ever.” It’ll be a tough act to follow for our kids today.

Gregory J. Rummo is a syndicated columnist. Visit his website

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