The Contrary Generation

Tom Brokaw dubbed my father-in-law’s compatriots the greatest generation. They grew up during the Great Depression and fought WWII. They believed in sacrifice for the greater good and love of country. They worked hard, persevered against long odds, and fought harder after getting knocked down.

They also spawned the Baby Boomers.

I’ve been wondering what moniker pundits will give to my generation. Some of the early Boomers protested the Vietnam War, participated in the free speech and free love movements, took drugs, formed communes, refused to conform to the demands of the free market system. Then, in the eighties, Yippies evolved into Yuppies. They swerved to the right and pledged allegiance to capitalism, greed. Yuppies became neo-cons in the late 90s and early 2000s. They believed in the United States’ right to use military power to intervene in the Middle East, to depose governments and install American-leaning democracies. Now a significant percentage of the Boomers believe in Trump, the great Big Daddy. They pray that he’ll use charisma, loud-mouthed bullying and cut-throat bargaining to secure the tattered remnants of white privilege. So much for peace, love, nonconformity and power to the people (uh huh).

We are the contrary generation.

Of course, not all the boomers swayed to the tune of every passing fad and bowed down to every commercial campaign. Not all sold out. Some tried to make their portions of the world better. But I had hoped that the abundant youthful idealism of the 60s would have produced more positive action over the long haul.

The 60s were a party. The 70s a hangover. The 80s a redirection. Every year from 1992 on has been part of a fitful thrashing about, a search for solid ground. I understand why the millennials look at us in disbelief.

But the Boomers are human. Current and future generations can look at us as a cautionary tale. The Millennial and I-Generation’s assumption that they won’t fall into the same traps leads to identical behavior. The Boomers, once upon a time, thought they were better than the Greatest Generation. They thought they were special. Look how that turned out.

Blast from the Past Public Service Announcement: Walk It Off

It turns out that critical and demanding parents of past generations may have had a better plan for raising kids. When Dad told you to sit up straight at the dinner table, to redo a shoddy job, and to pay attention when he spoke to you, he wasn’t a callous dictator. He had your best interests in mind. When Mom told you to stop whining, to continue taking lessons you hated, and to consider the good aspects of your mean Uncle Earl’s character, she showered favors upon you.

My harsh grandmother once upbraided a five-year-old for whining about itchy chicken pox scabs. She barked, “If that’s the worst thing that ever happens to you, count yourself a lucky little man!” Back then one learned at an early age that life was tough, much was expected, and that true self-worth came from achieving legitimate goals. Participation trophies didn’t matter. Quitting was for sissies. Emotions could and should be stuffed during hard times.

An article in Scientific American reported that today’s college students fall prey to depression more often than students did in the past. The writer gave partial blame to social media, to a lack of exercise, and to less time spent in direct contact with friends and family. But the writer put greater culpability on three false assumptions commonly held by the I-generation: emotions are the best guides when making choices and taking action; difficulties weaken rather than strengthen the survivor; people are all good or all evil (no shades of gray).

Unconscious and environmental triggers shift and change emotions constantly. Using them as guides is like chasing butterflies: they may look pretty dancing in the sunlight but won’t take you anywhere. A life directed by the vagaries of emotion becomes aimless and futile.

Folks who believe that difficult situations drain their resources see themselves as increasingly powerless victims. Children need to be taught that stressors, if met with determination and a problem-solving attitude, give the survivor a sense of resiliency. They learn that their limits of power, stamina and patience stretch further than anticipated.

A black and white view of the social world leads to frequent moments of outrage and disillusion. Heroes slip and fall all the time. No one can pass a purity test if scrutinized closely. Folks who judge others gain the satisfaction of occupying the moral high ground, but discover that their dug-in position isolates them. Fear of falling from their apparent state of grace makes them defensive and inflexible. The judgmental cannot see their faults and make necessary adjustments when clouds of self-glory obscure their vision.

The three false assumptions lead to more misery than a lifetime spent trying to prove one’s worth to demanding parents. A higher standard pulls you up. Soft comforts and hollow praise let you slide down into mush.

A blast from the past PSA: Walk it off. Rub some dirt on it. Quit crying or I’ll give you something to cry about. Who told you that life was fair? Wipe that look off your face. Are you going to leave the house wearing that? You’ll thank me one day. You won’t win any prizes with that attitude. Don’t take yourself so seriously. Be careful what you wish for. Take it like a man. Take it like a woman. Don’t let me down (again). The world doesn’t owe you a living. Is that the best you can do? What makes you think you’re so important? If life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Then punch life in the nose.