Complaining about the younger generation is a natural part of becoming old. People have been doing it for centuries. Senior citizens are looking for validation on how they lived their lives, which are nearing an end. They look at the younger generation and see people doing things differently than they would have, and feel threatened. To feel better, they wonder about how spoiled, irresponsible, or lazy the younger generations are.
The realty, of course, is that each generation faces unique challenges and events, and that forms their outlook towards life. The situations that face one generation can be radically different that those that face another, and although there are some basic principles that are important no matter what, what worked in one age is worthless now.
My parents were a part of what we now call the greatest generation. They faced the twin challenges of the Depression and World War II, events that shaped everyone who survived them. I can't even imagine how hard it was for them to live through the largest economic crisis in our history followed by the biggest war in our history. Not only did they survive those challenges, they built a post-war world of growth, promise and prosperity that I grew up in.
That makes me a baby boomer, and I wear that label with some embarrassment. Our generation was given more than any that preceded us, and I'm not so sure that we did much good with it. While boomers have been speaking ill of Generation X, Z and Millennials, those generations are fighting back this year with the OK Boomer retort. Like all generations before us, we like to think we behaved better than the ones that followed, but the evidence proves the opposite. Here are some of the more entertaining retorts to baby boomer complaints.
Younger generations today are legitimately upset about the unfinished business the Baby Boom generation left to them. We neglected basic infrastructure, ignored scientist warnings about climate change, watched idly as education costs skyrocketed while wages stagnated, resulting in a world of limited promise and stark inequality. Taxes have been cut to increase spending, resulting in a huge national deficit that future generations will have to pay back.
Baby boomers look at kids today and don't see any of that. They see the generation who grew up on smart phones, streaming television, and unlimited internet, things that they are jealous they never had as kids. The increasing connectivity of today's youth has been a mixed blessing at best, providing dizzying amounts of entertainment mixed with isolation and depression. The questions that remain for all generations is have we made the better place for children, and if not, how can we do better?
To close, I include my Goodreads review of one of the books that started the generational war in 2018.
A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America
This book was amazing in its coverage of what the legacy of the baby boomer generation has been. The author spends nearly 500 pages going into excruciating detail the events of the past fifty years and how the boomers lived a privileged childhood only to squander it on enriching themselves at other's expense.
As a boomer myself, this book was a devastating indictment of boomer politicians like Clinton and Bush, both of whom presided over new laws that helped the boomers just when they needed the help.
The unfinished business that the boomers will leave behind- record inequality, global warming, ballooning deficits, crumbling infrastructure, overflowing prisons, declining education, and more will present future leaders with a huge list of problems that they had no power to create or protest.
The author goes into depressing detail of how the boomers took control of various programs that their parents had created, and squandered them. Rather than plowing into planning for the future with research and development, they've consistently gone for the quick and easy solutions like tax cuts and magical thinking.
Granted, this thesis is broad and overdone, and not all boomers are sociopaths, but the record of the leadership that Gibney details is damning.
The greatest generation paid much higher taxes than their children did, and built entire highway and school systems, setting the stage for the easy life most of us had. I'm a little embarrassed by what we've failed to accomplish and hope that things can still improve, but that may only happen in ten or twenty years when the boomers are finally out of power.
In a way, I don't think it's entirely the boomer's fault that they've behaved like spoiled children. They were spoiled from the beginning, as this book details, and when people become too entitled, comfortable, and sure of their own unearned greatness, they lose the ability to empathize and see things through other perspectives. A long, and thought provoking read for sure.