Like many Boomers—the original “Peter Pan” generation—I find it almost impossible to believe I’m over thirty-five, much less fifty. Unfortunately I am rudely reminded of that reality several times a day…particularly when dealing with the—what do they call them, now…generation “y”?—with whom I am in close contact every day. Oh, yes; there are times when I definitely feel like the moldy old relic I am. For the most part, though, I see myself as the same hip, anti-establishment almost-renegade I was thirty-five years ago. Plus a few pounds and a bit of perspective…
It’s funny how the accumulation of years upon the planet begins to impart a sense of history to those of us who are paying any attention at all. It starts when we begin to see our parents as human beings; we notice and understand the things they conquered, the mistakes they made, the hurdles they cleared. And we see how those things eventually became part of who WE are. That knowledge settles upon us like the stages of grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression and, eventually, acceptance—that we are, to a large extent, those people from whom we struggled so valiantly to break away and distinguish ourselves. Little do we know that, another decade or two down the road, as our parents pass on and all we have left of them is what we can see in the mirror, we will cling to that connection as if it were the last life ring thrown over the side of the Titanic.
That compilation of years has brought me another bone to chew, of late. I’m beginning to see how we Boomers have failed our children. How our mistakes—those things we did thirty or forty years ago when WE were in charge of writing history—became a less than exemplary model for the generations that have come after us. We were all about bucking the system. We were all about re-writing the rules to suit our own sensibilities. We were young and we were free—or we wanted to be. Our parents’ social mores were stifling, prejudicial and outdated. So we threw away their rules and wrote our own.
Granted, some of those rules cried out for rewriting. We understood that our parents’ rules criminalized behavior that was the sole business of parties engaging in it. We didn’t/don’t need Big Brother hiding under our beds or dictating a social order based on ethnicity or skin color. But we were not at all selective about which of our parents’ rules we flushed down the toilet. Down it all went. We didn’t understand that the kind of freedom for which we clamored carries a great burden—first of discernment, then of self-regulation. We didn’t take the time to discern what part of the social code to which our parents subscribed was valid, timeless and universal. Our governing philosophy became, “We should be able to do whatever we want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.”
And so, we have passed that watered-down, unspecific credo down to our children—who have proceeded to alter it even further. Today’s rule is, “We should be able to do anything we want.” Evidently, the “as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else” part of the rule was entirely too subjective—What does “hurt” mean? And who, exactly, is “anybody else”? And why should I care, anyway? So the next generation did away with that caveat completely.
In the end, what we thought was a leap toward great and necessary social liberation, turned out to be that...PLUS a step down the road to utter chaos. All because we didn’t understand that human beings are notoriously incapable of self-regulation. Because we didn’t understand that was why our parents’ rules—which were surely mutations of their parents’ rules—were developed in the first place. Now...NOW that we have managed to put a few decades under our belts and acquire some of that "historical perspective" I mentioned, we GET IT. But what can, what WILL we do about it? How can we rebuild what we tore down? Who will listen to us now?
And can we hope that our children will "get it" before their children, or their childrens' children, drag us down to complete anarchy?