LLOYD GRAY: Boomers can still make up for our excess

By LLOYD GRAY / NEMS Daily Journal

I am a Baby Boomer – born right slap in the middle of the 18-year stretch from 1946 to 1964 that defines us. I did not, however, forcefully occupy an administration building on a college campus nor riot in protest of the Vietnam War nor even march peacefully for civil rights. I did not go to San Francisco’s summer of (group) love in 1967 with flowers in my hair nor drop acid and dance naked in the rain at Woodstock in 1969.
I was not in the forefront of the sexual revolution nor any of the various liberation movements ascribed to my generation.
Listening to Bob Dylan and the Beatles and taking guitar lessons was about as out there as I got. Who didn’t do that?
It’s amusing – but also a bit irritating – to have seen for years now, and with more frequency and intensity these days, sweeping generalizations about Baby Boomers in the media. It is as if we were all in the vanguard of these storied events and movements in which, if truth be told, only a tiny fraction of us participated.
As the first Boomers prepare to turn 65 in 2011, our generation is being both acclaimed and vilified as either saving the country or ruining it, and not much in between. This polarized assessment is a product of today’s culture wars in which wagging the finger of blame is a full-time occupation.
The truth lies somewhere in between.
Let’s face it: Baby Boomers have had it pretty doggone easy, especially compared to our parents – the “Greatest Generation.” They grew up in the Depression and then survived the hardship and heroic sacrifices of World War II. After the war, they built things – families, communities, businesses, schools, religious and charitable institutions. They worked hard but knew how to enjoy themselves and each other.
Many of them also spoiled their children, giving them everything they didn’t have growing up. Some of those children rebelled at the very abundance of the life they’d be given – the greatest material security in the history of humanity. In that rebellion was a measure of seeking for deeper values but also a big dose of juvenile self-absorption.
Those who contend the Baby Boomers saved America – most of them Boomers, of course – point to the advancements in equal rights for women and minorities, action to protect the environment and other social causes that supposedly were led by our generation. But any honest evaluation of those societal changes must acknowledge that they were multi-generational movements. Martin Luther King, after all, was not a Baby Boomer.
On the other side of the spectrum, those who blame Boomers for the spread of sexual irresponsibility, the decline of marriage and other social institutions, and a general “anything goes” approach to life, aren’t acknowledging that older and younger Americans share the responsibility for general societal unraveling.
There are more Boomers than anybody else, so we’ve been pampered and targeted by marketers all our lives, and they like to flatter us. They fall on the side of us as world-savers, as they attempt to make us all think we were on the front lines in the grand and glorious 1960s.
That demographic bulge and the attention it has brought us coupled with the relative affluence most Boomers grew up in give us a very strong sense of material entitlement – more of everything, instantly accessible, debt be damned. I think Boomers in general must plead guilty to that.
The people who seriously analyze Boomers’ negative impact have a point on this score, and it’s why they’re concerned about the first Boomers beginning to retire at a time when the financial state of the nation is at worst at a breaking point and at best severely strained for the foreseeable future.
The next few years will be a true test of the purported original idealism of the Boomers and a chance for us to prove that we are not the selfish louts that some people think we are. And this time, we really can help save the country.
How? Charles A. Donovan of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society, writing in USA Today, put it this way: “We can demand flush retirements and lavish health care … and foist today’s deficits on the next generation. Or we can re-learn the meaning of sacrifice and the virtues that gave us birth.”
Sacrifice isn’t something we’re used to. Our parents knew it. We’ve never experienced it to anywhere near the degree they have.
Now we have the chance, although the sacrifice won’t come close to matching theirs. All we have to do is not demand so much – for the sake of the country that they, not we, truly saved.
Lloyd Gray is executive editor of the Daily Journal. Contact him at (662) 678-1579 or lloyd.gray@djournal.com.