The title of this week’s post, of course, is a line from this song.
I’ve known of this song for decades. It’s older than I am. It’s one of CSN-and-sometimes-Y’s most well-known songs. I heard it on oldies and classic rock radio growing up, and I think they used a mediocre cover of it in a commercial for potty training pants or something like that at one point.
But I had never really thought deeply about the song until I heard it a few days ago and, well, started thinking about it. The first verse and chorus seem pretty straightforward. Teach your children well. But then the second half of the song always confused me. I had no idea what they were saying. You have Graham singing the melody, but then David and Stephen are harmonizing on ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LYRICS at the same time. I’ve always had a hard time understanding songs that do that. I’m trying to listen to the lyrics, so it would be nice if everyone was singing the same thing at the same time, although it is kind of a cool effect. And then the final chorus, now it’s “teach your parents?” The title of the song is “teach your children,” so why the sudden reversal? Was that just something that the guys thought of when they were on drugs? And what the heck does “God knows the fears that you held the screw by” mean? I can’t be hearing that line right.
So I looked up the lyrics. It’s actually “can’t know the fears that your elders grew by.” And all of a sudden, the song makes a lot more sense now that I know what they’re saying.
The song was released in 1970, during the Vietnam War. Much like today, tensions were running high in society, particularly regarding the generation gap between the baby boomers coming of age, many of whom were being drafted to fight this war, and their World War II-era parents. These parents and children grew up in very different worlds, and what worked for one generation does not always work for the next generation. The same thing is happening today. The young adult millennials who are at the forefront of today’s social and political activism grew up in a completely different world from the world that Generation X and the Baby Boomers grew up in; they can’t know the fears that we grew by, as Graham Nash sang. The Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago, so people in their 20s and younger do not understand why communism and socialism are viewed so negatively by those old enough to remember the Cold War. Older people tend to criticize the younger generation for spending too much time staring at phones, laptops, and tablets, instead of interacting with others, fearing that the younger generation will produce more and more people who can’t function in society. While some of these concerns are justified, it fails to take into account the fact that society is different today, and social media often strengthens friendships and relationships in a world where people cannot always be with their friends and loved ones face-to-face, so this also serves a useful purpose, particularly for people who are not always comfortable in face-to-face social situations.
I overheard a conversation recently about how, within the culture of Christianity, Baby Boomers often put down Millennials as being lazy and undisciplined, and that this is doing a disservice to the Church as a whole. Millennials grew up in a different world, in which many of them did not have both parents at home like the Baby Boomers did, so their needs are different than those of older generations were at their age. The Church wants to give them more discipline and structure, but they really need to be loved. All of that seemed to fit well with my thoughts about this song.
Yes, society is divided along generational and cultural lines. But we all have something to learn from each other. And we all have something to teach each other. We have something to contribute to our collective children, and our experiences can teach something to our collective parents who did not live in our world. We’re all in this world together. We don’t always understand each other, but making our best attempt to is an important first step. So, if you want to make the world a better place, be open to learning about others around you, and teaching them about you. Others usually aren’t as different or hostile as you’d think sometimes.
Just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.