The author, interviewed on TV, argued how the worldview of modern generations differs from the worldview of the baby boom generation. Enter the young! She suggested how socialism to boomers comes out of a Soviet Cold War mentality. Socialism to the modern generations means Sweden, Norway. Our times shape our worldviews, the author continued, describing how the experiences of the modern generations — 300 percent increase in tuition, epidemics of mass killings, 9/11, war in Afghanistan and Iraq, global recession, exploitative merchandizing — has shaped their opinions, choices, candidates, their votes. Those of us who are gray and arthritic might wish to remember that anyone today under 21 years old grew up with laptops, internet, social media, mobile phones, cable television, reality TV, organized sports, pervasive video surveillance, plus co-habitation as normative.
True, but what else is new? All generations are affected by the events of their times. It’s how the generation responds to their times that matters. Consider the struggles we baby boomers experienced: the Cold War and duck and cover, Vietnam, the Cuban Missile Crisis, Nixon, race riots, assassinations, cruel colonialism in chaos, revolutions, HIV/AIDS and our reckless self-indulgence.
My parents’ generation and my grandparents’ generation had their struggles and their triumphs. We joked how mom handled five pregnancies in 10 years courtesy of Winstons and whiskey sours. I warp farther back and imagine the struggles of my forbears. One was hanged as a witch in Salem. Later, her descendent fought against the British at Lexington. Still later, one side of my family fought for South Carolina and the preservation of their plantations. They lost, fortunately. Two other sides fought to preserve the Union and abolish slavery. Quaintly, the sister of the rebel side married a brother from the Union side. See, there is hope today for the cranky USA. Each generation can describe its travails and each can claim its triumphs. We are our histories, we also create our histories although, we usually fail to realize it while we’re doing it.
My grandmothers were privileged to see the ratification of the 19th Amendment on Aug. 18, 1920, the Susan B. Anthony Amendment granting women the right to vote. It seems incredible today to think that for the first part of their adult lives they were prohibited from voting because they wore dresses. No wonder neither of them ever missed a chance to vote in an election. Then again, they also were born before the invention of airplanes, before affordable automobiles, before the onslaught of packaged snack foods, before telephones were common. Grandmas Margaret and Florence also survived the 1918 influenza epidemic that killed more persons than did World War I.
Let us then also applaud the triumphs experienced by baby boomers: the Civil Rights movement, the anti-war movement, the demand for equal rights, decisions by the Supreme Court, woman’s liberation, moon landings, Lamaze classes, cigarette cancer warnings, removing lead from paint and from gasoline, polio vaccines, open-heart surgery, medical transplants, the rise of internationalism, the first Earth Day, rock 'n' roll, girls permitted to wear slacks at school instead of mandatory skirts or jumpers, even our hippy flippancy. At least our wars resulted in fewer deaths than the wars of the so-dubbed Greatest Generation. It’s been a privilege to be part of this dizzying, dancing, glorious boomer carnival, despite our many failures.
All generations also have their failures. Today’s newer generations are responding to the world we gave them. Family collapsing. Church collapsing. Unions collapsing. Civic organizations collapsing. Satisfying work collapsing. Leaders, authorities, institutions unworthy of respect.
Add other factors of instability. The young doubting that people are good, doubting improvement. Gender role confusion. Violent reaction at the browning of the nation. Defensive, un-listening tribalism. Population shifts, the young (who can) migrating from hometowns. Young people turned off by scriptural pabulum and theological certitude. Young men reacting to wives and girlfriends as breadwinners. Outrageous housing costs. Health care costs. Grandmas raising granddaughters. Debasement of speech. Debasement of truth. Debasement of moral integrity. Debasement of science. Dreams on the ash heap.
Ours was a colorful, dramatic, oft traumatic, kaleidoscopic generation, go-go boots and feelin’ groovy. Theirs seems weary, introspective, burdened. A daughter summed up her years in high school as chronically sad, given the number of tragic deaths they endured every year.
What triumphs will our children celebrate? The foremost triumph they told me was the election of President Obama. Another suggested marriage equality and #MeToo. What will they claim as glorious?
The Rev. Robert Andrews is retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.