I wonder if anyone else watched the Tom Brokaw Reports television special on CNBC called “Boomer$!” last night? I certainly did. Although there’s been a trillion books, movies, articles, studies, reports, etc… done about the Baby Boomer Generation, I was still interested to see how my generation would be portrayed. Why? Because this story is really about ME and the odds are, about YOU too, dear reader.
- Robert Deihl and I with our mothers on graduation day
As Boomers we represent the largest demographic group in American history. There are approx 78 million of us in America and we have spread across the cultural landscape like no other. For most of our five-six decade existence, we’ve had things our way. Life was our oyster. No doubt that we’ve had a significant impact on society, on the entire planet, for both good and for bad.
From vacuum tubes to YouTube, we have lived in the age of advanced and ever-accelerating technology.
Tom Brokaw, whom I’ve followed since he was a young anchorman at a local LA news station, wrote the book about our parent’s generation. He referred to them as The Greatest Generation. Now he’s turned his focus on us – their children. He pointed out that although we’ve contributed to ideas and technology, many citizens consider Boomers a self-centered lot that has driven our country to the brink.
Yes, we’ve been responsible for the largest expansion of economic wealth the world has ever seen, but the long-term consequences of this activity may prove to be dire. As Brokaw said, “the bill has come due” on our excessive, credit-loving ways, and the final verdict will be whatever happens next. Yeah, that’s what concerns me. It should concern you also.
It is no secret that we (Boomers) became the richest and greatest consumers the world has ever known. Brokaw said about us, “… now they’re at a stage in their lives (50-60s) during this economic downturn, when a lot of the assumptions they grew up with, that they assumed would be there forever, have not just been challenged, but have been turned on their head”. Amen, brother.
Simply put, we are the victims of our own success.
In the past twenty years, many Boomers have had it easy and we’ve gotten relatively wealthy, certainly as compared to our forefathers, and we’ve shown our wealth by building/buying McMansions and gas guzzling cars. Our houses represent our lifestyle more than shelter and our cars are more a symbol of status than transportation. The idealism and social activism of the 1960s somehow shifted to materialism and capitalism and that economic motor has driven the world ever since. We had the power and boy did we use it! We’ve certainly had our day in the sun. (For many of us that has resulted in melanoma, but I digress.)
With some pride I point to our generation’s contribution to ideas and technology that is unsurpassed.
We changed the world. Just not how the Woodstock generation figured it.
The people Brokaw interviewed in this report are well known figures, not only to Americans but to just about any person in the world today. The list was impressive: Steve Jobs; Bill Gates; Tom Hanks; and even “Boomer-in-Chief” Bill Clinton. They all cited our contributions and defended our legacy. Spokesperson Tom Hanks made the point that Baby Boomers are not selfish at all and are always looking at ways to give back. This view is supported by an Entrepreneur Magazine’s 2009 Trends Report that states “this Boomer bulge of mega-consumers, who leverage two trillion dollars in spending power, believe they have a responsibility to make the world a better place.” At least seventy percent do (according to this report). Gee, I hope I’m counted within this seventy percent and not the other thirty percent which (I guess) don’t give a shit?!
When Brokaw interviewed the average Joe or Jane Boomer, the tenor seemed much different. In fact I got a little depressed listening to my peers talk about where they are at this stage in life. Many of the interviewees are now unemployed and nervous about the future. This economic storm has blown down their straw houses and they’re not as optimistic as they once were. Brokaw said there are over four million unemployed Baby Boomers in America today and they are facing the “double whammy of no jobs and no health insurance”. He said, “… the health care crisis really is an economic crisis. These new retirees will strain the country’s economy by living longer and they are not the healthiest of people.” So, yeah, we got that going for us too.
Almost daily I talk with Boomers who are struggling. Many of them are Sandwich People which means they’re not only taking care of themselves but also their own children and their aging parents. I hear a lot of personal stories about someone’s child moving back home mostly due to the current economic conditions and lack of opportunities. Add aging and ailing parents to the mix … and that empty nest ain’t empty any longer, and probably won’t be for awhile.
One may ask, if the previous (greatest) generation were so wonderful then what happened to their children? Are Boomers the result of bad parenting? Not likely, says Brokaw. Events like Vietnam, Watergate, Woodstock, Civil & Equal Rights movements, Anti-war movement/social protests and the long Cold War, all shaped our values and expectations. The times were our influence and we also influenced our times in ways our parents and grandparents couldn’t even imagine.
Me (hat) and old buddy, Robert, in Santa Barbara, CA - circa 1978
Human nature is that each generation wants to outdo the last … especially motivated was my own Woodstock Generation. We wanted to change the world in a different way than our parents and we certainly did. But this begs the question … where will this leave our children? Continuous over-consumption and neglect of our fragile life raft (Earth) will doom us all, so I don’t believe our children will want to compete with us in that way.
The silver lining in all of this is that Baby Boomers now seem to be reevaluating their lives and resetting their expectations. I know I am. I know many my age are doing the same thing – reexamining their values and undergoing life transformations – in many shapes and forms. We are changing our values and thinking about our legacy and this is leading to a renewed activism in America. This is a positive thing, my friends!
If we all (especially those of us unemployed) VOLUNTEER for one cause that we really care about, and work to produce the results we desire, not only will we lift ourselves up , but we will lift our entire nation out of this economic and social crisis. Call me whatever, but I truly believe this. That action is a part of what made the Greatest Generation great … they did it in their time and we should do no less. So, let’s leave the comfortable confines of our McMansions and big screen TVs and show the world that we are still the best and the brightest generation ever.
We may be down, but we sure aren’t out.
For my part … I’ve got a laundry list of things my family and I will take on as we strive to live a more sustainable existence. I’m taking on the cause for clean and renewable energy and I’m volunteering for Solar Oregon, Portland Green Team, Solarize SW Portland, etc… and I hope you find your causes too.
Brokaw’s report really had no ending. He waxed on a bit about our past, but we’re still here having an impact, a major-league global impact, and the final chapter is yet to be written.
Let’s write it together.
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