- On a beautiful Florida day, at a spring training baseball game, I approached my row and apologized for inconveniencing everyone who had to stand to let me in. The very large Boomer taking up the end seat responded: “If you want to get to your seat, why don’t you just say so!” and wouldn’t get up to let me in until I threatened to sit on his lap..
- I placed an upbeat comment to a Huffington Post article about Boomers doing more volunteer work, to which a fellow Boomer responded “You’ve been hitting the bottle too much…”
- Of all the age groups, from our kids to our parents, we seem to have the lowest threshold for civil discussions, particularly around issues facing the nation/politics; too many of us become quickly “enraged” “appalled” – blaming and unwilling to listen let alone speak calmly to anyone who doesn’t full agree with us.
But this is not new. Boomers were a pessimistic lot even in our “flower power” groovy youth. It wasn’t optimism, but pessimism that drove our protests, sit-ins, and marches; we didn’t trust “the man” or anyone over 30 for that matter; we believed the earth was being polluted beyond repair; our young women were fed up with “male domination”…
Now, 40 years later, add the stressors of career, paying off the kids’ college loans, tanked 401K’s, and aching joints, and you have a bunch of over the top grouchiness.
Plus, extremism is one of our generational characteristics (think “latch-key” kids on the top of the age-range of Boomer parenting, “helicopter parenting” on the younger end – different approaches, both approaches extremes). So when we do something, we take it to the max. Our generational rebellion included extremes like:
- refusing to “dress up” like our parents did so we became the first generation to go to church or out to dinner in jeans & t-shirts;
- refusing to accept authority to the point of feeling justified in being rude;
- living the “better life” our parents raised us to believe we were owed via spending beyond our means, procuring “McMansions” for a family of 3 and ever more “things” (including excessively expensive cars) to show our worth.
Put these two dynamics together, pessimism + extremism, and you get a volatile brew.
This matters greatly because, beyond our sheer numbers (we are 26% of the US population), we are this country’s leaders:
- 58% of the US Senate & 79% of the US House of Representatives are Boomers,
- 82% of US Governors are Boomers,
- as are about 59% of Corporate America’s CEO’s.
This means that how we act determines social outcomes (as it did in our youth), what we feel dictates the mood of the nation. Which at this juncture is…well, quite peevish, a tad intolerant, and reliant on extremes to:
solve what we perceive as social ills that are only ills because we no longer engage in them (a majority of those against medical use of marijuana or needle exchange programs to curb the spread of HIV, are Boomers who loved the snow and weed as youth);
balance budgets by decimating services we no longer need ourselves (“Support birth control clinics that prevent the spread of STD’s and unwanted pregnancies? I don’t think so! You go out and have unprotected sex, that’s your problem!” – we were the biggest users of these clinics, for those exact reasons, in our own youth) while preserving those that only we need (in a recent Pew poll, 63% of Boomers opposed raising the age at which we’d qualify for full SS benefits).
Ah…but there’s more. Two extremely (had to say it…) essential elements that tie our testiness up in a beautiful bow of justification for bad behavior:
- we’re frightened, discouraged, disappointed – things aren’t turning out as we’d planned and we’re in trouble, particularly financially – at middle age that’s admittedly tough to handle, and perhaps too many of us don’t have the healthy coping skills to handle these feelings with even a modicum of grace;
- we’ve fallen into what numerous studies have shown to be an increasing tendency for Americans (and moreso older Americans) to refuse to fall prey to logic – even when faced with raw facts that dispute what we want to believe, we simply refuse to believe the facts so we can feel comfortable holding onto our position no matter how wrong it might be.
Well, as the old and very bad joke goes: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb? None…it has to want to change…
Imagine how much better this country would be, how much calmer and enjoyable to live in, how much more we could get accomplished, if we as a generation decided to discontinue the vitriol, talk with instead of at each other, operated from “us” rather than “me”….
I believe we can do it. Call me an optimist.
(here’s a link to a pew research/census gathering of statistics on “why Boomers are so Bummed…” posted on the show’s website)