The Greatest Generation
Tom Brokaw, host of NBC Nightly News for many years, wrote a book extolling the virtues of the generation of Americans who survived the Great Depression and went on to fight in World War II. The Book, “The Greatest Generation” went on to become a best seller. It describes the selfless sacrifices of a generation of Americans who arguably suffered the greatest hardships any generation of Americans and went on to build America into the global power that it has become today.
Most of these great Americans have passed away, but there are a few who are still living. Some of them reside in the retirement community where I live. These are some of the most gracious people I have ever known. They all fly American flags outside their homes. They are unassuming, generous, and hospitable. They raised the Baby Boomer generation who benefited greatly from all the sacrifices they made.
The Me Generation
The Baby Boomer generation, unlike their parents, never had to experience the same kind of hardship, deprivation and daily struggle to survive. Not only did they live in a time of comparative peace and prosperity, but advances in modern medicine eradicated a host of infectious diseases. During their years, fast food became ubiquitous. Shopping centers sprang up across the country. Vast distribution networks made fresh fruits, vegetables and even seafood available year round from coast to coast. Radio gave way to TV and commercials began to raise peoples’ expectations with a deluge of enticing ads. This generation has come to be known as the “Me Generation.”
Having been exposed to a constant barrage of marketing year after year, Baby Boomers were not content to sacrifice and save up for major purchases like their parents did. The arrival of the credit card resolved that issue. Before the credit card, stores had what were called ‘lay away’ plans. If you didn’t have the money to pay for the item you wanted, you could make deposits with the store and they would hold it until you had made payment in full. Credit cards, however, could be used for a variety of items and you didn’t have to wait to get them.
With more purchasing power than their parents’ ever knew, young Baby Boomers soon began to acquire things their parents had to save years to buy. My folks did not buy a new car the entire time we were growing up. When I first got married, my new wife and I went out and bought one immediately (to my parents’ consternation).
By now America was a dominant superpower that faced no imminent threat. So there was nothing that made it necessary for people to unite for the common defense. The universal draft was eliminated. People were free to pursue their own self interests without any obligation to national service.
Having experienced an ever rising standard of living throughout their childhood years, Baby Boomers expected the same for their children. They indulged them in ways previous generations never could. On the contrary, the greatest generation needed the children’s contributions for the family to thrive. But Baby Boomers’ children grew up in cities and suburbs surrounded by comfort and convenience. And for the first time, children became a liability rather than an asset as parents provided every opportunity for them get ahead and spent hours chauffeuring them from one activity to another.
The parents of the Baby Boomers considered hardships and hazards an inevitable part of life. Their children never had bike helmets or car seats. Most of them earned their own spending money. Many paid their own way through college. By the time the Millennial Generation rolled around, parents saw their role as protecting children from the hard parts of life. They paid for their children’s college, weddings, and maybe even grad school and a car or first home.
What were considered privileges for the Baby Boomer generation soon became entitlements for their children. This group of young people had never experienced any significant deprivation. Most had never missed a meal and had the luxury of being picky about what they ate. Many became obese from overeating or eating too much fast food. Most of them never even been been exposed to measles or mumps as a child, much less polio. Many have never been told “No” by a parent or been corrected for misbehaving. Many parents tried to use reason to coax good behavior, allowing little ones to manipulate them with objections and tie them into knots with temper tantrums. They even let little ones participate in family decision making.
Most Millennials were raised in the public schools by teachers who carefully protected their fragile sense of self esteem from any kind of negative feedback.
Other adults didn’t help either, encouraging over-familiarity by insisting that young people call them by their first name. Nor would they ever scold or reprimand other’s children for misbehavior lest they risk the wrath of an over-protective parent.
Now these Millennials have become young adults and Baby Boomers are reaping the consequences of their over-indulgence. They are discovering that their obsession with self esteem has led to a generation of young adults who will not tolerate disagreement. When they are offended, which doesn’t take much, they take to the streets in protest. They destroy property, slander their opponents on social media, and demand safe spaces where they don’t have to listen to contrary points of view.
Baby Boomers failure to demand a modicum of respect from their children has bred contempt for past generations as well, as shown by their zeal for destroying monuments to national heroes whose politics or lifestyles they dislike. Many have completely rejected the values upon which our nation was built as indicated by a recent poll that shows almost half of millennials would rather live in a socialist society.
Despite their contempt for capitalism, these same children expect their purchases to be delivered to their homes, and their meals to be prepared hot and ready to eat by their favorite take-out spot or grocery store. Many cannot cook and wouldn’t consider doing so even if they could. So they don’t open their homes to others for hospitality. If they don’t like their in-laws, and many don’t, they cut them off and don’t let them ever visit their grand children. If a parent has the audacity to stand up to them, they may take them to court in an attempt to silence them.
They are also filled with a sense of insufferable arrogance. This is especially evident in the names they choose for their own children, names like “Valour,” “Justice,” and “Honor,” that represent values that are foreign to them. Traditional names have become rare. Naming children in honor of a family patriarch is no longer fashionable. Every name has to be unique and make a statement. A friend recently overheard one delivery nurse say to another, “Doesn’t anyone ever just name their child “Jim” anymore?
An Irreversible Trend
The Bible describes people in the last days like this, “But understand this, that in the last days… people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God,” (2 Tim 3:1-4). This is an apt description of Millennials. It is a generation that has been given more than any previous generation and appreciates it less. It is dedicated first and foremost to self-gratification. It looks down upon its elders and their values. In fact, a recent poll showed that nearly half of all Millennials would reject the freedoms secured by previous generations to live under socialism.
Perhaps the Baby Boomer generation may one day realize that protecting their children from the hardships of life may also have prevented them from developing such character strengths as kindness, sympathy, compassion, generosity and the other graces that the greatest generation had in such abundant supply. Unfortunately, it is too late to reverse the trend now.