Much has been made, and rightly so, about the parents of the Boomer Generation. They survived the Great Depression and fought unprecedented tyranny and evil in World War II. After those two huge challenges, they came home and got on with life, largely concerned with making the world better for their children – the Silver Agers.
We Silver Agers, the so-called Boomer Generation (some 76 to 79 million of us), cannot understand nor compare with the challenges our parents faced and overcame. Nevertheless, I want future generations to understand that we, too, faced challenges, made our mark, and we also wanted to leave a better world for our own children and grandchildren.
During our lifetimes, we Silver Agers have made great strides in the healthcare and medical field and now we live in an age of miracles unforeseen by us in our youth. Polio, the bogeyman of our youth, has vanished, as have smallpox, mumps, measles, rubella, whooping cough, and now many of the cancers are in retreat as we speak. Most of the aforementioned diseases are unknown to our grandchildren and for that I am so pleased. Of course, on the dark side we have seen the deadly rise of HIV, Ebola, and now COVID- 19.
In technology, we have seen a growth unprecedented in the entire history of the world. For most of us, television did not exist when we were children, then the advent of black and white TVs with maybe three channels at most was seen as a delightful miracle. Now I doubt if one can number the amount of programming available to our Smart Televisions. We have moved from slide rules to having so much calculation power in our cell phones that most of us can only use a fraction of what is available in our pockets. We have opened the information age and have seen virtually unlimited amounts of research and data available to anyone. Among scientific advancements almost too numerous to list, we have given the world the World Wide Web, the artificial heart, DNA fingerprinting, dialysis machines, pharmacy breakthroughs, genetic engineering, and on and on.
It has been noted that in the workplace we tend to be competitive, goal-oriented, and career-focused—and also nonconformist and willing to question authority. Women and people of color in the Boomer generation also led the way in building careers outside traditionally female and/or minority jobs, and many are in leadership positions today. We have placed many females and minorities in positions of power in many powerful companies.
Socially we have paved the way for great triumphs in the areas of racial, gender, and sexual equality with much still to be accomplished. We have moved from the time of Jim Crow laws, school segregation, and red lined neighborhoods to equal rights in all areas under the law (although all too often, not in practice). We either supported the Viet Nam war and fought over there or protested its legality and morality. We had the first Earth Day. We gave the world Rachel Carson, Barry Commoner and Amory Lovins who expended great energy describing the Earth’s limits and proposing possible solutions. We saw the birth of the National Environmental Protection Act and the establishment of the Superfund to clean up waste sites.
Sadly, like all humans, we have also given birth to, or acquiesced to, so much of what is regrettable today. Far from John Lennon’s vision in his song Imagine, we see too many children being raised in single parent homes; a worsening global pollution and warming; a political system that is for sale to the highest bidder; and a national debt that is incalculable. Equally tragic is that we are now living in an era of intractable division. We find that we have given birth to an era in which any ideological division is a sign for verbal or physical combat. We also live in an era in which we have lost the ability to laugh at ourselves and now have to be so careful with even what used to be the most benign of observations, lest we offend and be branded racist or worse.
Stanton Green sums us up well when he writes, “What one finds, in the bullet points of American history since 1945, is a sea of contradictions. The generation that opposed Richard Nixon voted for Ronald Reagan. It demonstrated against war in Vietnam, but supported the invasion of Iraq. It marched for civil rights, but opposed affirmative action. It witnessed the feminist and gay liberation movements, but defeated the Equal Rights Amendment and dragged its feet on marriage equality. It created Earth Day, but denied climate change. It embraced rock ‘n’ roll, but censored rap. It defined the rebellious teenage subculture, but became helicopter parent.
I think that when we Silver Agers look in the mirror we can see that we did the best we could and often succeeded, but all too often became victims of our own hubris and self-deceit. We wanted so much to change the world and make it better for our next generations. We had the best of intentions. But, like humans throughout history, we accomplished some great things while seriously damaging others and leaving a mess that needs cleaning up by the next generation, may they be as well intentioned.