Do We Owe Our Progeny an Apology?

According to some featured graduation speakers as reported by the Wall Street journal (& commented on by Rita Robinson of the Seattle Press -reprinted here), we most assuredly do:

“Is it necessary for baby boomers to apologize to younger generations for their excesses?

When I was reading The Boomer Blog, I found an article in The Wall Street Journal called “Boomers to This Year’s Grads: We Are Really, Really Sorry.”

These are among the quotes in the article:

Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, 60 years old, told the graduating class of Butler University last month that boomers have been ‘self-absorbed, self-indulgent and all too often just plain selfish.’

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, 55, told Grinnell College graduates in Iowa that his was ‘the grasshopper generation, eating through just about everything like hungry locusts.’

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet, at 44 barely a boomer himself, told seniors at Colorado College that the national creed of one generation standing on the shoulders of the next was at risk ‘because our generation has not been faithful enough to our grandparents’ example.’

The article said the collective advice of the speakers for the class of 2009: Don’t be like us.

What do you think of these apologies?”

I’m glad to hear ’em – and my hope is we’ve just begun, at last, to recognize the damage we’ve done as a generation over the last 25 years, when we started with such promise.  Remember when we fought against “the man” and all his excesses, his polluting ways, his corporate greed, and his disdain for anything but his own bottom line?  So we changed the world for the better w/civil rights, environmental controls, and the uncovering of corporate shenanigans?  We were good!  Then we went bad….

Robin goes on to say that Gen Y/X experience their share of excesses, so it’s not just us…but gee, who raised them?  She states that there were/are those of our parents’ generation who have as well lived lives of excess….in contrast to ours, they were in the minority – and it was not a generational past-time to live beyond their means & consider themselves worthy only if they had more things, as it was ours.

Finally she says: “I know boomers who are environmentalists and live a simple lifestyle. Not all boomers practiced instant gratification.”  Yep… all three of them.

Then, there’s this from Harry Dent of the Miami based HSDent research firm as reported in the Newark Star Ledger, about how Boomers are the prime cause of this recession (as he predicted would be the case back in the ’80’s) – but this time for the opposite reason of the apology:

“Q: You said years ago that the spending habits of the Baby Boomers will eventually cause the economy to crash. Why?

A: This Baby Boomer generation is massive — the largest we’ve seen in a couple hundred years, probably since the American Revolution. They’ve been entering the work force, getting married, raising families, buying houses and earning more money since the early ’80s.

…We said 20 years ago, “Hey, there will be an end to this.” They’ll peak in their spending cycle after they buy houses, raise their kids, get them into college and all that good stuff.

Now, they’re just doing predictable things as they age. In other words, they’ll become savers, not spenders. They don’t need a bigger house. They don’t need more cars. The kids are gone. That’s what happening. They’re going to spend less and the economy’s going to get slower and slower.”

To Mr. Dent I say…”yeah…right…apparently you’ve not been keeping up with your fellow Boomers spending habits…”  We may down-size some things like our home space (although many are actually up-sizing as they “retire in place” and make room for children and/or parents to move in w/them), but we are not down-sizing our willingness to spend for things that keep us feeling good about ourselves. From ultra-expensive “cosmeceuticals” to high-end vacations, our penchant for instant gratification and determination to halt the aging process will well make up for any “savings” we embrace in other areas. 

And please prove me wrong, my fellow Boomers, but once this econonic crisis passes, and our portfolios make a come-back, too many of us will go back to our old ways.  We will be the first generation to leave less for our children (inheritance) than we spent on ourselves.

But all is not lost, says she who has so far filled this post with a quite curmudgeonly “bad Boomers!” diatribe.

I always have faith in my generation, it is faith in ourselves that I fear we lack.  We still don’t recognize the enormous power (for good or ill) we wield (lost track of that once we moved from our youth to becoming “the man” in adulthood), and the immense changes for the better of which we are capable if we put our collective will to it.

If we make driving small, fuel efficient cars the thing to do, they will sell like pork-barrel projects in Washington!  If we make it a priority to hold our legislators accountable for their behavior, we will have far better government leadership.  As the current corporate leadership, if we move from an emphasis on gluttony to one of benevolent leadership (as we demanded of those in this same position in our youth), we will change the face of corporate America.

So, Boomers, as has been the case for the past 40 years, the proverbial ball is in our court.  Will we use our collective might to fix what’s wrong today, and leave a legacy perhaps not equal to but near that of our parents’, or will be continue to ignore our power and by doing so remain destructive?

You tell me.

 

Boomers Disappoint Next Generation

A while back, a lovely young lady (very young…college aged) wrote to our local newspaper begging for real leadership from the adults running her world.  Here is my response…

Dear Ms. Scofield:

Since it is we Boomers who are the leaders right now, it is us who owe you the kind of thoughtful, quality leadership you so dearly want, and who have so disappointed you.

And ironically, you have asked of us the kind of leadership we asked of our leaders in our day.   It is our generation that began the environmental movement – “sitting-in” and demonstrating our little hearts out against “the man” and the status quo he represented (corporate greed, pollution, segregation, few rights for women – sound familiar?) when we were your age!

Yea us!

Except that once we became  “the man” we happily backtracked on all that we believed as youth: we have been the main polluters with our gas guzzling cars and 3 homes; we are the CEO’s of the companies that ran the economy into the earth’s core and made decisions based on fattening our wallets vs. caring for our customers/planet; we abandoned the equal rights bill  so women still make significantly less than men for the same job; we are many of the legislators unproductively growling dogma along strict party lines or to ensure our re-election rather than doing what’s best for the state/country and our legacy.  We are doing exactly what our leaders were doing that we so abhorred.

I am so very proud of you.  And I am so very disappointed by the failings of my generation after such a slam-bang start.

So you and your peers keep up the pressure – and add to it that no one knows better than Boomers what is needed to take care of our state and the world.  Remind us of that for which we once fought.  And don’t stop until we blush and capitulate.

It’s the least we can do after all these decades of betrayal to our roots.

A sign of the Times

You know, when I was younger I would curse the bevy of advertisements throughout our newspaper… “Annoying…!” I would mutter to myself. “Look at this, a full page just for an advertisement…disgraceful!” I would exclaim aloud.

Now, I thank every ad-salesperson on my paper’s staff, and every savvy business buying it.  They keep that paper coming to my door every morning, and I am extremely grateful.

Because how happy would we be if our newspapers go away…victim of younger generations’ apathy for the written word held in one’s hand?  With the prospect looming for giants like the Chicago Tribune and LA Times, this is not as far-fetched as we wish it to be.

I teach businesses how to reach the Boomer buyer, as many companies still cling to the last century trend of marketing to the 18-45 crowd (begun, by the way, in the ‘70’s to reach, you guessed it, Boomers…) and then wonder why they’re struggling.  Boomers have the highest levels of disposable income with the greatest willingness to use it, we represent almost 45% of the consumer market, larger than all the other individual market cohorts combined, and we spend a whopping $2.3 trillion annually on goods & services…that’s $400 billion more than any other age cohort.

And it is we Boomers who are the primary subscribers to newspapers/ magazines; the last generation to get our buying information from traditional media (papers, radio, and TV). 

So to you smart companies advertising in the newspaper, you’re doing exactly what it takes to reach us.  Keep it up.  And to my fellow Boomer readers, I ask you to join me in doing the smart thing and spend with these businesses.  We can simply complain that our newspapers are either disappearing or becoming a shell of themselves, or we can help bring them back. 

As a generation we brought the nation civil rights and the world human rights, to name just a few of the society-altering fixes for which we fought and won – we can handle this one easily.

Hang in there, print news…with we Boomers behind you, you’ll be just fine!

Why Obama is in Fact a True Boomer

The headlines and punditry are consistent: The Boomer Generation has had its Presidents (aka Clinton & Bush) and with Barak Obama is passing the mantle to the next generation….which is…still the Boomer Generation.  Born in 1961, President Obama falls within the chronological confines of our generation (b. 1946-64), but more importantly, he really couldn’t be more Boomer in his ideals and characteristics.

Yes, I know, there’s the contrived if not fluctuating configuration called “Generation Jones” made up of junior Boomers and those a few years beyond (GenJ has been noted to start as far back as 1954, and can go up to 1970…I was born in 1954, and I promise you, I’m all Boomer). 

And I understand the drive to find some sort of label for those who are not Boomers, yet not GenXers (e.g. anyone born between 1965 & oh, say around 1967, since thereafter those born to the first boomers, e.g GenX, began arriving).  Finally, I understand, and agree, that there are many born at the end of the Boomer era, say between 1960 & 1964, who look, act and feel more like GenXers than Boomers.

But that’s not Obama.   He personifies all the things Boomers believed in, fought for, and achieved in our youth:

  • A world free of pollution and poverty
  • That all have the same rights that theretofore had been given to only a select few
  • Elimination of the corporate corruptions that keep the poor poorer, make the rich richer, and stain our nation’s policy-making and global credibility
  • Ending a war the conduct of which has damaged our reputation throughout the world

Don’t let the fact that we Boomers strayed from our ideals, mislead you younger folks to think that what Obama believes and instills in you is an idealism of a new generation. 

He is bringing back to you what we started, but alas didn’t continue.  From his mixed race heritage and his decision as a young man to work as a community organizer (Boomers were the first true “activitists” as a generation), to his “laid-back” personna, he lives and breathes all that characterizes Boomers.

As Mike Phillips, a confirmed old White Boomer from Salem MA says so well:

“To those of us who marched (maybe not physically, but at least in spirit), with the leaders of the civil rights movement. With Martin Luther King, Jesse Jackson and all of the un-named others. With those who were killed, assassinated or suffered other injuries because of their beliefs.

But most of all, to the followers. Those of us who are un-named, who endured the violence and repression and vilification. Who weathered the dogs, the police, the fire hoses. To those of us who confronted the bigotry, the racism, the defamation of human beings because of the color of their skin, as we followed.”

Obama is a Boomer who, as an adult is getting it right, something many of the rest of his generation didn’t do.

He’s a Boomer, alright.  Just a Boomer who didn’t lose his youthful ideals as he reached manhood, and used them well even as he struggled to create a career and support a family.

And oh boy I couldn’t be prouder of him!

 

What We Can Do to Keep This Great Obama Feeling Going

…and the beauty of my idea is its simplicity – note I didn’t say its ease… but it is quite simple.

Don’t be shrill.

You were McCain/Palin: it’s unfortunate your pick didn’t win; now get behind who did.

You were Obama (few really care about Biden….): that’s lovely but don’t gloat.

We want Obama to “not overreach,” the Democrats to “not let their increased majority go to their heads and and as result forward ideology rather than pragmatic solutions” and our national leadership to stop back-stabbing and start healing the body politick. 

None of this is possible with a shrill electorate.  Whether you believe it or not, your elected officials do, more often than not, follow your lead.  If you scream, they scream.  If you stay calm, determined and focused, they will, too.

Catch yourself overreacting, taking the election results as some sort of reflection on you personally (either “winner” or “loser”), fearmongering.

We have a huge role to play if this “new feeling of hope” we’ve clearly given the planet is to take hold and stay longer than a few months. 

Mr. Obama has led us to the well.  We decide whether we drink, or continue to thirst.