When the Basics Become Bizarre

“When the Roman Empire collapsed, the loss of basic knowledge of how to do ordinary things was immense. The Oxford historian Bryan Ward-Perkins told me that it took western Europeans something like 700 years to relearn how to build a roof as solid as the Romans knew how to build.” Rod Dreher~

When my husband retired from his office job, he leaped into a full-time vocation that he was already doing part-time–roof and chimney repair. And he added a ministry aspect.

When he needs a crew, he goes to a local drug rehab program and recruits workers for the day. A couple of them turned into long-term employees. They arrived with a new outlook and got a new set of skills.

But most of them don’t. After all, not everyone belongs on a roof. Not everyone can traverse a housetop in a mild degree of comfort. And not everyone is willing to do the hot sweaty work required to finish the task at hand.

Some move on to other work. Others go back to the old way of life.

My husband sees two ways of thinking. One accepts responsibility for the past and doesn’t want to return to the old life. Those workers show promise and are willing to learn. They revel in a sense of accomplishment. They find success in fixing something that had been broken.

The other perspective shifts blame for the past. The shifting means they don’t move forward. They realize no great moments of accomplishment. Without accomplishment, there is nothing to pass on. There is no once-broken-now-fixed thing to see, to point to. And no set of skills attained to pass to others. They can only pass along blame.

That is how we forget.

Decades ago, I was among an inaugural class of girls taking woodshop. I still have the finished cedar box I made complete with a crack across the top because I (apparently) hit the hammer too hard nailing the lid on.

The teacher swore he would never teach girls again. I assume he retired shortly thereafter. From then on, girls would work with wood and boys would navigate the formerly female-only domain of the kitchen.

Our more modern outlook did well to invite boys to pursue competence in the kitchen and girls to use tools. We taught skills and children accomplished meals and boxes–even those with cracks.

I read this week of schools eliminating home-economics classes–now named Family and Consumer Science.

And I remember the sense I felt a few years ago at seeing a sack lunch for sale in a grocery store. It’s hard to give that feeling a word. But “loss” comes the closest. Can we no longer even pass along the small accomplishment of packing one’s own lunch?

Think about the exchange so many of us have made. We’ve traded the ability to prepare our own food (let alone grow it ourselves) for going to the store or restaurant, or now to have it delivered.

We have to realize that we are passing along ways to do things. We are showing others how to do things themselves–or how to get others to do things for them. We are always teaching something.

We have to ask if we are losing ourselves in our loss of basic competencies. With such seemingly small losses come even bigger ones hidden under our radar.

Rod Dreher writes about a conversation he had with someone who works with victims of sex trafficking. He calls the conversation “deeply shocking.”

“He said that in his line of work, he hears from fertility doctors — not one fertility doctor, but several — that they are having to teach married couples how to have normal sex. . . . if they want to conceive. These young people have been so saturated in pornography, and have had their imaginations so thoroughly formed by it, that the idea of normal reproductive sex acts are bizarre to them.”

Imagine a world where the idea of having your leaky roof fixed is bizarre. Where the idea of fixing your own sandwich is bizarre. Now imagine the world where the idea of the normal way to make babies happen is bizarre.

That world is becoming our own.


Photo Credit: Paul Head

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Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have a material connection to the entity I have mentioned–my husband’s roof repair business. I have no material connection to any other entity mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”