I was born in 1962. For those of you of a demographic bent, that means I was born within the last couple years of the so-called “Baby Boom” in the US (which ended in 1964).
I tend to think of all of the generational names as nonsense, part of our endless desire to simplify things with names so we can then make fun of them without having to think too much about it. Much like the way the term “millennials” is used in some circles. It’s all pointless, if you ask me, but people do love their generalizations. Or “isms”, as they are called in other contexts.
Nonetheless, if I try to follow the generalization as far as is allowable for vagueness, I never thought of my generation as being particularly great. My tendency is to think of human beings as being essentially the same in terms of inherent value, although sometimes individuals or groups of people do something unusually salutatory or heinous. So it would be rare that I would think of any “generation” as particularly good or bad. And mine is no exception.
I would say my generation was a little unusual compared to those immediately before and after it, in terms of overestimating its own importance. When you are young, it is natural and even important to be idealistic and visionary — this is how important changes get made, as well as unimportant ones. But we viewed our idealism as in some way unique, despite there being no evidence of the claim other than our frequent repetition of it.
This tendency to an inflated sense of generational self-importance resulted in a tendency on the part of some of my contemporaries — myself included — to make mistakes we might have avoided had we had less hubris. But we didn’t have less hubris, so we did make avoidable mistakes.
I have a lot of sympathy for people of all times and places who want to build, only to see what they’ve tried to build torn down. But that is what life is for most people, most places, in most times. “Happy endings”, in this life, are often only reached by stopping the story at some arbitrary point.
Having said that, I tend to react rather sharply to people who criticize prior generations, as though whatever is known or thought now should have been known or thought then. The appropriate conclusion to draw when viewing human fallibility is that we are all subject to it, and to be more empathetic. That conclusion isn’t drawn as often as would be ideal.
I’m also rather testy and defensive about younger generations, as people are people, and subject to the same range of failings and strengths no matter where you find them.
We should be suspicious of our own thinking any time we feel superior to others — or inferior, for that matter. That is not to say we can’t be passionate about what we think is right and wrong. We should just realize that people are often more than just the issue at hand.
My generation is in the process of transitioning from the working to the retirement years, to the degree that is possible for each individual. The days of seeing everything through the lens of JFK, MLK, Woodstock, Vietnam, Watergate and Reagan are passing away, just as the Great Depression, FDR, WWII view did for the generation before mine. And that is probably a good thing. People who remember only part of the past seem as condemned to see it repeating everywhere as those who famously “don’t remember the past”, for it is the lens they are seeing after a while, and not the world.
An abandoned nuclear power plant, as pictured above, encapsulates my generation in many ways: we talked big, we reached far, we meant well, we pulled back, and we accomplished little — at least, little relative to our big talk.
But the lasting contributions are less often the big public or corporate works, but the little ways we find to make others’ lives better. And there, people my age have much good still to do.