A Boomer Perspective
It is characteristic of human nature to be inclined to regard anything which is disagreeable as untrue, and then without much difficulty to find arguments against it- Sigmund Freud
We are all of us all the time,
coming together and falling apart.
The point is, we are not rocks.
Who wants to be one anyway?
Impermeable, unchanging, our history already played out. — John Rosenthal
“Ok, Boomer. Let’s hear it. Let’s hear your perspective.”
My father pulled out the “on” button, turned the knob to channel 2, 3 or 4 on our black and white Zenith TV so the entire family could watch the news reports when MLK was assassinated. I was 7.
I didn’t watch news coverage of the race riots, beatings and rallies. I had no interest. But I did see pictures of beatings, whites only drinking fountains on my way to the sports page in the newspaper.
I followed the body count tallies during the Vietnam war. Every day the newspaper counted how many Americans, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese were killed. As I look back success seemed to be defined as “we killed more of you so we’re winning”.
I did not watch the war protests or read about them. I remember photos in the newspaper about the Kent State shootings. Not only was I not interested, I don’t think my parents wanted their young son exposed to the turmoil extant in society at that time.
There were environmental protests. Outrage over industrial pollution led to new laws, and eventually the EPA. Love Canal is the most well known, but there were many examples of polluted landfills, mines and waterways in the US. They started teaching ecology when I was in 4th grade. They showed us pictures of industrial waste as foam floating down a stream. Rachel Carsons “Silent Spring”, bad science that it was later shown to be, was nonetheless instrumental in the DDT ban. Acid rain was a thing.
Recycling was nowhere to be seen back then. Concerns about automotive pollution were in the future. The focus was on industrial pollution.
Richard Nixon coined a phrase as President: “Silent Majority”. His reference was to those not protesting the Vietnam War, but the concept had a broader application. The majority were silently racist by today’s definition. I was. As a young boy I told racist jokes, used racist language. Everyone I knew, lived in my neighborhood, went to school with, went to church with was white. I moved to the West as a teenager, again to an all white environment. Over time something inside me said those jokes and words weren’t right. My father and mother taught me they weren’t right. I eventually stopped. Not all of my friends did.
A minority protested Vietnam and environmental pollution. The majority went about their business, perhaps protesting through voting. I wouldn’t know.
I was well aware of the nuclear war threat with the Soviet Union. We had nuclear fallout drills at school. The school basement was stocked with supplies in case we had to go underground during a nuclear war. Certain buildings in town had signs in front indicating a nuclear fallout shelter.
Racism lingered. Obviously among some it has been passed down through the generations to today. In my high school/college years my father carpooled to work. He was disgusted with a carpool associate glad there were no “jungle bunnies” living in their town. Not all parents were like my father.
We were physically, emotionally and mentally healthier back then. We didn’t eat out constantly with excessive portions. School classes of 25 had the one overweight kid. In my 6 years of post elementary education one student attempted suicide. There were no school shootings. We were socially engaged, spending time with friends at their houses, at parties, in cars, walking the street. Children were not considered disruptive to the adult lifestyle, too expensive, a burden. A minority prophesied of the coming apocalypse due to overpopulation. Their projections for what the world population would be right now are way off.
Inter-racial relations were a struggle. A couple from two different races was rare in those days. My wife tells me that her father, saintly man that he was, struggled for a while with his daughter marrying a full blooded Mexican. My wife’s aunt struggled with her son marrying a black woman.
The workplace in the 80’s was an uptight, clock watching, tie wearing, misogynist environment. People were publicly humiliated and fired. One of the old guys I worked with, a survivor of the Bataan Death March in WWII, bemoaned all these “damn women engineers” in the workplace. . One of our executives was known to smile only when he fired people. The head of Operations at the next place I worked was known as “Body Slammer”.
Personal computers started showing up when I was in my early 20’s. Monochrome monitors, 5–½ inch floppy disk storage, 10K price tag. In the workplace there were only Wang word processors used by the secretarial pool. Eventually all of us ended up with a PC of some kind on our desk.
I’m almost 60 years old now, sort of retired. I’ve worked with women, gays, trans, bi, blacks, Asians, Hispanics. I search the Internet, text, e-mail, use social media, take online courses, video chat. A hand held cellular device is now required for one to be part of society. The device is far more engaging, and unfortunately, far more addicting than the monochrome monitor PC.
I have more material in my recycle bin than in the trash bin. People now talk about reducing waste put in landfills, reducing carbon footprint. Many chemicals nasty to the environment and people have been replaced. Acid rain is no longer a thing.
Racism is no longer acceptable in most of society. A minority are racist.
Today we face major physical and mental health difficulties. We are lonely, isolated, depressed, overweight, malnourished, suicidal to a far greater extent than when I was young. Sadly, misused technology and a worshipping of convenience has promoted these ills.
We have become a much more sensitive society. In some ways that’s good. It doesn’t take years of accumulated lynchings, beatings, prejudice to spark outrage. Single incidents can do it. But we are more easily hurt. The definition of “being yelled at” has changed significantly in my lifetime.
With that sensitivity comes demands for perfection. Innocent social interaction mistakes are not acceptable. The readily offended find offense where none is intended. Giving someone the benefit of the doubt is out of fashion. We complain loudly and immediately through social media. We will not step back, get ourselves under control, and reflect on the situation before responding.
It is a good time to live. I wouldn’t trade it for any other. My greatest fear is becoming a grumpy old man, a social and psychological burden to society, stuck in my thought and behavior patterns, feeling I have earned the right to be demanding, clueless about my self-centeredness. Supposedly Abraham Lincoln said most men don’t have a new thought after 25. I fear that. I fear thinking I’m having new thoughts, thinking I’m changing and making the world a better place when I’m really just modifying old thought patterns to more fully gratify my ego. There’s plenty of ego gratification, selfishness, “I paid my dues. I deserve this” in my generation, just as there was in previous generations as they aged.
It’s 2020. Us Boomers have been around a long time. We’ve seen what selfishness can do to the soul and society. We don’t need to continue this pattern, this selfishness, this ego driven, I-won’t-change, I’ve-paid-my-dues attitude. Let’s have the courage to whole heartedly contribute to making the world a better place. Let’s end the selfishness.