Boomers, Have We Lost Our Idealism?

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Previously I blogged about college entrepreneurs and returning vets who are doing great things, starting businesses and not-for-profits.  These demonstrate how alive and well the American Spirit is.  However there is a message from the vets that left me troubled (The New Greatest Generation, Joe Klein, Time, August 29, 2011), “We’re a group that really wants to see America become a better place.  We hate the divisive politics of the baby-boom generation.  They’re running the country into the ground.”   The article goes on to say, “Veterans are trained to believe that everyone in their unit rises and falls together. ‘In the military, it’s never about you.  It’s always about something larger.’  But there is another, competing and decidedly conservative sense that is common to veterans: That American society has gone soft and is filled with whiners, an entitlement culture lacking a sense of individual accountability.”

Thomas L. Friedman in his book Hot , Flat, and Crowded, says, “Our parents were the Greatest Generation, building for us in America a world of freedom, abundance, and opportunity to a degree that no generation in history had ever enjoyed… My generation (I was born in 1953), the baby boomers, turned out to be the ‘Grasshopper Generation, ‘ a term inspired by the writer Kurt Anderson…Americans in the past 30 years…gorged on the savings and natural world that had been bequeathed to us – leaving our children huge financial and ecological deficit.”  Friedman goes on to say the way out of this mess is to become the “Re-Generation” with “…the will, energy, focus, and innovative prowess to regenerate…”

I’m a Boomer also (born in 1950) and I always thought of us as being less materialistic and more idealistic than our parents.  They were concerned with jobs, houses, and status while we were concerned with peace, love, and brotherhood.  Or were we?  When the Grassroots sang, “While others worry ‘bout the future, I’m busy lov’n you…Live for today and don’t worry about tomorrow…”  When Rod Stewart told Maggie May, “I could…take my Daddy’s cue of play’n fool,” was this idealism or naiveté?  When we bought these records and played them were we saying “There are more important things in life than money,” or were we saying, “I just want to have fun, somebody will provide for my needs.”  There’s a big difference.

I was discussing this question of “losing our ideals” with a friend and she said, “ I believe individually we’re as idealistic or materialistic as ever, but the idealism has been tempered with life: earning a living, raising kids, and in some cases grandkids, even caring for parents.”

Further, Boomers have been voting for about 40 years, but we didn’t become the largest voting block until 25 (+/-) years ago, so we could share some of the blame with others.  We could also point out many of the environmental laws passed “on our watch” make the world better.  However playing the “Brag and Blame Game” is a major waste of time and energy.  We are where we are as a country, and we can see that there are many things that need improved.

The important question is, “In what ways are we gong to roll up our sleeves and start fixing things?”  How are we going to turn around the greenhouse gas problem?  How are we going to revise the entitlement programs so that our children and grandchildren not only don’t go broke paying for them, but receive similar benefits themselves?  How are we going to reduce the federal deficit so that our children and grandchildren aren’t paying off our debts for us?  When are we going to demand that our elected representatives, especially at the federal level, stop playing partisan politics and start putting America as a whole first?  We have to be willing to sacrifice some of our material and emotional comforts today and make it clear to our elected representatives that we expect them to make the hard choices for our Grandchildren’s tomorrows.

We were handed a wonderful country, a wonderful world, perfect?- no; wonderful?- yes.  We have an obligation to do the same for our children and grandchildren.

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