Every time I write anything about the boomer generation, I brace myself for the responses, like the comment on my most recent submission on The Huffington Post about the Academy Awards that read, "No one likes the boomers. Neither the people older, nor the people younger. We are all very glad that boomers are fading from view."
It takes maturity and wisdom to step back and see the whole picture. When you do, what becomes apparent are cycles of both excesses and omissions characterizing not only boomers but Generations X and Y, not to mention the Greatest Generation, which preceded us all. Of course, a well-meaning but misguided approach to boundary-setting in regards to demanding respect from our offspring is not the only issue upon which boomers have fallen short.
As a generation, and as individuals, we wish we could have done more or acted differently on a host of issues -- as does (and will) every generation. But in addition to our own omissions and commissions, we have inherited shortsighted policies, systems and agreements put in place by the generation that preceded us, for which we are now taking the blame. Solving these issues is now a multi-generational task, one that will require clearheadedness, truth-telling and respect born out of a deeper understanding of the interplay of all generations.
To begin thinking more clearly about the boomer generation, we need look no further than "Mad Men" and its portrayal of the status quo into which leading-edge boomers were born. Enduring the Depression toughened up the Greatest Generation, understandably but excessively so. They raised their boomer children on the messages of unquestioned respect for authority cultivated by the military's apparent definitive triumph of good over evil, an unswerving belief in progress through the power of the mind and the American will to succeed. They educated us with an unintended consequences. We began seeing for ourselves.
What we saw was not nearly as pretty as the pictures in Life magazine. We saw racism, sexism, homophobia, ethnocentrism and a disregard for the environment. We were raised by iron maidens and company men who largely equated compassion, emotion and introspection with weakness. Is it any wonder that we wanted to right a whole generation of wrongs and set ourselves to the tasks embedded in everything from women's liberation to the anti-war movement?
Even so, boomers respectfully funded our parents' late-in-life health care and retirements, never saying a word against them in this regard. We didn't look back in order to punish. Rather, we turned our attention forward, pouring our hopes and aspirations into the raising of our own children.
So now we wonder why, particularly under the relatively anonymous posting of their comments to our blogs, so many of our children don't love us. Truth is, they may (and probably do) love us. But they don't respect us.
So is there no end to the cycle of generational blame? I believe that there is not only the possibility of an end but a call to action. For boomers, the time has come to defend ourselves against verbal abuse. To accomplish this, we must become less concerned about being loved and more demanding that emotional tirades against the boomer generation be leavened by a commitment to the truth, mutual accountability and respect.
For younger generations, the time has come to view the past through the lens of broadened perspective, and it's not too early to begin assessing both the excesses and deficiencies of your own generations, as well. This does not mean we don't engage in intergenerational dialogue about what each generation brings to the table, good and bad, including our own. In fact, honest and open communication is a call to action that encompasses every one of the generations. But isn't it high time that we judge each others' generations by the best of what we are capable of, not the worst?
Neither mea nor "wea" need declare culpa to the extent that some amongst us will argue. But in the cycle of the generations, maturity and perspective deliver an important message to us all: responsibility is not guilt. And this will hopefully be a fresh start for us all.