Millenials and Boomers
After my second sip of coffee this morning, Facebook slapped me with a series of posts by people under the heading, “I love it when Boomers say. . .” The thrust of the post was to make fun of us oldies and some of the out-of-touch things we do and say. Some comments were funny and spot on, some just mean; but the collection of insults got me to thinking about the generational conversation I often hear between Millennials and Boomers.
My wife and I have a daughter and son in their thirties and talk to them often. We enjoy laughing and joking among ourselves but sometimes an edgy bite comes through, and someone (yeah, often it’s me) feels the sting of growing older and finding myself longing for a simpler time when I could simply plan an album rather than fire up the electron manipulator it takes to listen to music these days. (Okay, I can hear you snickering there). But frankly, I need that push from younger people, that generational judgment we Boomers had for our parents too when 8-track car stereos came on the scene and rock-and-roll took what Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis were doing and turned it into the greatest musical epoch of the twentieth century, one I might add that Millennials still listen to through their Buds of Air.
Often teasing is merely poking familiarity at one another, and I like to think it’s out of good will rather than its evil twin sentiment, but sometimes generation disagreement drives important social change as well. I was raised in the Deep South and racial segregation infused my young life like a suffocating blanket until I became a teenager and yearned to throw it off. My parents and I got into some wicked arguments, my boss at work threatened “to whip my dumb ass,” and over time I realized that my generation (or at least some of us) were seeing the world a different way. The realization first hit me in the sixth grade but really came home when I ignored the white boycott after our high school was integrated for the first time. The subject is too deep for me to handle here, but I’ve felt like a bit of an outcast ever since leaving me wrestling my southern roots. I plan to take a closer look at this conflicted experience in my third novel, “Leaf River Days” which I have begun writing. But let me finish my thought about Millennials and Boomers.
It’s okay to poke each other like they do in those brilliant Progressive Insurance commercials where younger adults are “becoming their parents.” Heck, I don’t even carry a cell phone and when I joined twitter seven years ago and posted a comment about my first novel, What the River Wants, I used the hashtag “suicide.” My daughter literally fell out on the floor laughing when I told her and my misstep still ranks high in the family anthology of bone-head blunders, but I take it as a source of pride because at least I had a Twitter account. Now I’m posting this blog article on a website I created myself and talking about books I’ve written or am writing. My kids without realizing have prompted me to discover these domains of fresh life, to open myself to a different reality, and I’m grateful for these experiences.
Stumbling into the future is the right of passage for all of us, and we need each other’s support as well as the objective callouts when our actions are out-of-date or counterproductive. That’s how we all learn (and I made a generational point of this between Lee and Tom in What the River wants.) But let’s look deeper into this idea, into Millennials and their loyalty to corporations, a subject I hear Boomers criticizing often. But younger generations view corporate relations not through the lens of a stable past but rather more as a symbol of capitalist system needing to be updated, the system we Boomers handed them. Many of these young people during the financial meltdown of 2008 watched their parents lose jobs they’d held forever, homes they’d built families in, and retirements that went poof because greed mongers gamed the system to impose a bait-and-swap claiming a 401-K plan would be fine for replacing a pension. Apparently, math hasn’t been updated in political circles since Fred Flintstone. Parents were left desperate, and Millennials now sit on college loans that threaten to rob an entire generation of home ownership dreams. Young people have a right to be cynical and to game the system any way they can, to present a cultural defense against the worldwide oligarchy that led to the mass destruction of middle-class wealth even as untouchable CEO’s played golf and not one guilty banker went to jail for wrecking world economic stability.
Millennials are now teaching us that loyalty has to work both ways from employer to employee, that flexibility is the new power, and that social indifference might be good enough for the old Boomer boardroom, but it won’t fly with the avocado-toast crowd. I applaud them; they are showing us that it’s okay to expect healthcare from the richest society on earth, to demand that our air and water not be fouled, that the choice between capitalism and government is a false choice and that the future must be the synthesis of what each institution does best.
Before my dad died, he came to me and thanked me for opening his eyes to the evils of segregation; it took him awhile
to come around to what had always been obvious to me and my best friend, but he finally saw the truth. Now, my kids and their fluid generation teach us how to reform the old institutions of business and government, the unbalanced relationships of power with minorities and women, the economic disparity of having immeasurably wealthy people hoarding even as the indifferent class resents poor children having a school lunch or people from countries ravaged by tyrants or circumstance daring to dreams of new life in The United States. Boardrooms are shifting under the pressure of technology and social upwelling and the Millennials are carrying the flag of change while across the planet a madman bombs hospitals and schools. I’m listening to these young voices shunning violence as they demand change; I’m proud still to be able to turn on my brain enough to synchronize with this sentiment of civilization always on the rise in the voices of the young. So, to make the world better, if you need to make a joke or two at my expense, then I can take it. And I can dish it, too. ab