There Are No ‘Generations’

§  Each so-called generation consists of individuals–individuals who differ greatly from one another despite their shared experiences.  §

As I mentioned previously in the essay, “The Kindly Neighbor and the Generations”, I am so very tired of generation bashing. Each so-called generational group consists of individuals—individuals who differ greatly from one another despite their shared experiences. Nor do any of these supposed groups have a premium on dreadful or world-shaking events.  War, financial collapse, pestilence—all these and more comprise the experiences of every human being, no matter their birth year.

So it was with utter dismay that I came across what was perhaps the opening gun in Boomer Bashing, when I encountered the article, “Baby Boomers: Five Reasons They Are Our Worst Generation” written by Gene Marks in 2013.

I sat reading the article in shock and consternation.  Hardest of all for me as I read Mr. Marks’ hate-filled diatribe was that I in no way recognized the people he described.  Born myself in the 1950s, my friends range in age from 40 years younger than I, to 10 years older.  But of all of them, not one even begins to resemble the “tanned and healthy”, golf-playing, pension-collecting parasites retiring to sunny climes “on the backs” of their children, as described in his  article.  Those people may well exist, but I do not know them.

I found Mr. Marks’ view of the Boomer generation to be so unlike the individuals I know that the dichotomy was incomprehensible. The Boomers of my acquaintance bear the scars, physical and psychological, of their sojourn in Vietnam (or, in fact, they do not, having been among the many who died by their own hands after enduring that dreadful conflict and coming home to be spit upon and called baby killers.)  They spent years paying off the parental loans that helped put their Millennial offspring through college—money that might have gone toward their own retirement, yet was willingly paid to give their children the education that, often, they themselves had been denied. They fought for Obamacare, yes–because they, and often their children, were among the millions denied health insurance due to preexisting conditions.  They instituted Earth Day to raise awareness of climate change, opened recycling centers, forced through legislation to ban CFCs.  They patronized health food stores, trying to break the “white bread and sugar” cycle of eating on which they had been raised by their Silent Generation parents.  Barely more than teenagers, they were the White faces dotting the sea of Black Americans marching with Dr. King.  They were the strong, unflinching women who endured vicious treatment, slander and sexism in order to break their way into corporate America and the armed services.

One of the most difficult things of all for me to comprehend was his blaming of Medicare on Boomers.  The Medicare program was instituted in 1966.  At that time, the very oldest of Boomers was a mere age 20—not even legal, as the saying goes.  They had no hand in creating Medicare; it was put into place by the politicians of the so-called Greatest Generation, for their own benefit.  But even worse was, perhaps, his claim that Boomers are the final hold outs in racist, homophobic, and sexist behavior.  That statement brought me to bitter laughter, culminating in tears, as I reviewed the photographs and news reports of recent, horrific events in our country.  No, Mr. Marks: racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism are alive and well in the consciousness of Millennials/GenX, as well as Generations Y and Z.

Even more laughable was, perhaps, was his claim that the newest generations have healthier lifestyles—when obesity is rampant, and deaths from vaping, idiotic social media “challenges”,  and drug overdoses make daily headlines.

Mr. Marks lamented that, unfortunately, Boomers can’t just be shipped off to an island somewhere (sounds shockingly like, “Send ‘em back to Africa”, doesn’t it?), but rejoices that the generation of his parents is rapidly aging and will be dying off soon.  One can only imagine the happy dance he was doing when Covid-19, at least initially, began wreaking so much havoc among those 60 and older, killing them off at disproportionately greater rates.

Examining the irreconcilable differences between Mr. Marks’ view of the various Generations and the reality of the individuals who comprise those groups leads me to but one inescapable conclusion: There are no “Generations”.  There are only people—individuals, personalities, entities, characters—some good, some bad; some environmentally conscious, others not so; some self-centered, others empathetic; some working to make the world a better place, within their understanding of how it might be so; others striving to maintain the status quo. 

Nothing is gained, no progress is made, by laying blame, be it on a fictitious construct of a generational group, or any other entity, such as government or business.  Every human being inherits the problems created by those who preceded her or him, and may, if they have the strength of spirit, work to better those conditions for all.  For that is the way the world progresses: not by hatred, blame, and censure, but by acceptance of the hard work that must be done if we, and our tired world, are all to evolve and improve.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also like “The Kindly Neighbor and the Generations” to be found in the Archives from April 1, 2020.

The Kindly Neighbor and the Generations

§  To imply that today’s youth do not know sacrifice is to minimize and belittle everything they have experienced.  §

A friend asked me—not in an accusatory manner, but just curiously—why none of my recent weekly blogs had discussed the coronavirus pandemic. My initial reaction to her question was, “Dear God, don’t we all have to read and hear enough about it every day?” But, the simple truth is that my blog posts are usually scheduled as many as four to six weeks in advance, leaving them very little probability of corresponding to current events.

Only a day or so after her question, though, I received an e-mail lightly connected to the pandemic which simply set my teeth on edge; so much so that I decided to rearrange some scheduled posts to include an essay about it.

I cannot name the original source of this material, since the e-mail I received did not include it. Here, however, is the article that arrived in my email in-box, along with a note remarking that it was “just beautiful”.

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My reaction to this essay was swift and very negative. I re-read it multiple times in dismay, finally summarizing it for myself as follows: A kindly, thoughtful person makes special effort to ask if an elderly neighbor needs anything during a national crisis, and receives in return a rant, a harangue; a tirade closed by a scathing, condescending remark. And while I have rarely been the recipient of offers of neighborly helpfulness, I am certain that a critical lecture and nasty remarks would not be my first choice of response.

My second reaction to the account was that of weary disgust: I am so tired of generation bashing! Whether it is the self-named Greatest Generation deriding Baby Boomers, or Boomers disparaging Gen X’rs and Millennials, or Millennials ridiculing Boomers and Generation Z…I am sick of it. Each generational group is composed of individuals—individuals who differ greatly from each other despite their shared experiences. There are things we can all learn, wisdom to be gained, from appreciating one another’s viewpoints–but that wisdom cannot be gained so long as we continue to disparage each other.

No generation has a premium on dreadful events.  Each generation endures pain, and war, and sacrifice. Pearl Harbor was no more shocking than 9/11. The “police action” of Korea and the undeclared war of Vietnam were just as horrific for those who fought them as the Second World War. And I feel certain that those soldiers who battled through the First World War could easily have spoken just as scathingly to the man of this story as he did of subsequent generations.

Nor is disease limited to any one generation. A survivor of the Black Death from the Middle Ages, transported through time to the era of Spanish Flu, might well have laughed ironically: people were not, after all, dying while lying on straw pallets, covered with lice and fleas.  Lesser diseases were not under the sole proprietorship of the Greatest Generation, either. A Boomer myself,  I had classmates who survived polio; I endured measles, mumps, chickenpox, and rubella.  I was dreadfully sick with whooping cough as 40-something adult. My daughter, a Millennial, caught chickenpox before a vaccine became available.  I watched two co-workers barely survive MERSA.

Boomer children grew up under the horrifying reality of the bombs that fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki,  and the grip of the Cold War; we daily walked past the radiation insignia of the shelter areas within our schools as we ran practice drills for surviving nuclear annihilation. Sissies?  I feel sure that “duck and cover as you prepare to be vaporized by a nuclear warhead” did not comprise part of childhood  of that 80-something man.

To say that today’s youth do not know sacrifice is to minimize and belittle everything they have experienced. True, they do not recall a world without instantaneous communication, even from the battlefield, but the very world they have been born into is dying: the polar icecaps and Antarctic ice fields melting away; bees, butterflies and bats, all our pollinators, dying off at unprecedented rates. They have grown up in schools drilling not to survive nuclear war, but active shooters; they have watched their classmates mown down before their very eyes. And now they are dealing with the first genuine world-wide plague for 100 years. For them, this will always be the defining moment of their generation: when they had to shroud themselves in a chrysalis of isolation, afraid to hug a loved one or touch their hand; watching their parents and grandparents and even classmates succumb to an invisible enemy and barred from them as they died, gasping for breath.

No, I have reached the conclusion that the real man in the sad little tale I was sent was not, as declared, that full-of-himself 80-year-old, declaiming his one-sided story,  lauding himself while deriding all those whose experiences did not match his particular world view. The real man, was, I think, that kind-hearted neighbor who, unasked, came to see to the needs of an elderly man…and who came away, quite unappreciated and totally belittled.