The “boomer generation” has produced mountains of research on Gen X’ers, Y’ers and Millenials. And much has been written about us. As we boomers approach the finish line, I’d like to add my two cents – a kind of generational self-evaluation.
Ours is the generation whose parents Tom Brokaw labelled “The Greatest Generation”. Our parents, says Brokaw, “fought not for fame and recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.” Reared in the throes of the great depression, and then having a war thrust upon them, our Moms and Dads rose to the occasion. They survived the nation’s economic crash and then helped shoulder the burden of battle to save the world. They wanted for their children a domestic security they never had. They fought so we could be free. They bought so we would never go without.
The sacrifices that generation made were legion and they gave us some heroes. Now, as their offspring enter our golden years it is time for some accounting on our part with regard to our contribution to the betterment of the world. With our parent’s generation leading the way, we took up the mantle to end poverty and racism. In our earlier years we were not quite as complementary as was Brokaw. We saw the birthing of the “Military Industrial Complex” and we protested. We challenged the moral constrictions and the market assumptions which seemed to deny both freedom and fact. Government wanted to be the “protector”; but we caught them often enough in deception so as to render politicians untrustworthy. We lured people to San Francisco with the pipe dream that putting flowers in our hair would somehow make everything alright. In fact, “hair” was major when it came to defining ourselves on Main Street or on Broadway. We would use what was on top of our head (more than, our parents would say, what was in our head) to distinguish ourselves from our parents.
In short, we were not all that impressed by what “The Greatest Generation” left to us and we were determined to create for ourselves a better, more noble legacy.
Like the “greatest”, the “boomers” have produced our heroes. The world is webbed together thanks to the creative genius of Gates and Jobs (and Gore?). Rock ‘n Roll gave us The Beatles. Our music produced a cadre of poets like Paul Simon. “Folk music” asked the tough questions hidden in soft melodies (“What Have They Done to the Rain?”) No doubt – we have had our moments in literature, the arts, technology and science. And, in spite of the “God is Dead” proclamation by Time Magazine, we have even had our share of theologians. Whether or not God is dead, the Christian Church certainly has been dwindling; and yet the boomers introduced the world to the “Mega-Church”. Bill Hybels made national news as Willow Creek Community Church challenged the status quo of tradition. “Worship” would use every tool the culture could produce – and people came by the thousands. But there are some questions which need to be asked.
How have the “boomer politicians” done when it comes to restoring trust in government? We have gone from declaring, fighting and finishing a war to waging war all the time. We like to think we are making headway when it comes to alleviating poverty, but wealth in the US is more concentrated at the top than ever before and the minimum wage in most places doesn’t come close to a living wage. Dare we bring up the cost and availability of health care? Regardless of your politics, health care costs have skyrocketed under the leadership of both parties over the last forty years. And how are we doing as far as education is concerned?
The point is not to list all our weaknesses or the places where boomers have failed. The point is to be honest about it, and to take responsibility for the kind of world we are leaving to our children and grandchildren. In the popular series “Arrow” Oliver Stone is out to get the people who have “failed the city”. He is constantly confronted with the possibility that his own tactics might be failing the city as well.
I am ready to turn the world over to people much younger than myself – not because I am tired. Quite frankly, my energy level remains high. It’s not that I am despairing; I am a born optimist. But I don’t want to be like that proverbial emperor whose nakedness was seen by all but acknowledged by none. We are not leaving a more secure world to our children. Churches have shrunk almost to the point of being irrelevant under boomer leadership. The “gap” that existed between teenagers and their parents in the 50’s and 60’s is nothing compared to the chasm between boomers’ youthful ideals and our narcissistic lifestyles.
Let’s face it, Boomers, this is another nice mess we have created. The words of that old protest song apply more to us now than when we sang them back in the day to our parents: Come mothers and fathers throughout the land. Don’t criticize what you can’t understand. Our sons and our daughters – and our grandchildren – are beyond our command. Our old road is rapidly agin’. Time to get out of the way if we can’t lend our hand. The times, they are a’changin’.