OPINION | What's the world coming to?

When people start a sentence, “Back in my day…”, followed by a complaint about how the world is getting worse, I usually run the other way.

I’m pretty sceptical about these sort of nostalgic pronouncements, believing as I do that human nature doesn’t really change much, only the frills on top. And also that the pendulum on almost any issue will swing forwards and backwards over the years, a cycle rather than a continuum.

But lately I’ve found myself saying the same sort of thing. (It's official - I'm old.)

Usually I say it while watching those conversations that happen on panel shows, political debates and social media.

And what I’m saying is this: have we lost the ability to discuss an issue with anything like civility, giving a respectful and generous hearing to another view, and countering it with intelligent arguments rather than shrill polemic?

You know the scenario: someone disagrees with one part of an argument, and automatically they are the enemy, aligned with an opposition they may in truth have disagreements with as well.

No matter, no matter. If you don’t agree with me, you must agree with them.

Nuance? Forget about it.

I don’t think people were like this a generation or two ago, at least in Australia.

But...maybe this was the style further back than that; and maybe in some other part of the world public discourse is becoming more gracious and thoughtful. Swings and roundabouts?

The fact that my inner cynic says no way, means I may have fallen into the trap of the ageing grump. It's not impossible that I'm just not remembering correctly.

There's no doubt social media has intensified the effect of this combative style of discourse, but is it just giving a louder voice to what people were saying anyway?

We all have a tendency to view the world of our youth as simpler, sweeter. But guess what? Most young people don’t have the capacity to see all the shades of grey that exist in an adult world. It wasn’t the world that was simpler - we were.