Last night while out to dinner, someone my age said that the generation entering the workplace these days has to be the “most selfish generation ever.”
Before I respond, some perspective. Let’s take a look at recent U.S. history. These are generally accepted dates and terms used in defining post 20th century generations.
Born 1900 to 1924: G.I. Generation
Born 1925 to 1945: Silent Generation (my parents generation)
Born 1946 to 1964: Baby Boomers (my generation)
Born 1965 to 1979: Generation “X”
Born 1980 to 2000: “Millenials” (my children’s generation)
It takes a while for a generation to grow up and exert its influence on the world. Let’s say a generation’s sphere of influence occurs 30 years after its start date to 50 years after its end date. This, of course, means there are periods of overlap where two generations dominate the culture. A timeline of influence might look something like this:
- G.I. Generation: 1930-1974
- Silent Generation: 1955-1995
- Baby Boom: 1976-2014
- Generation X: 1995-2029
- Millenials: 2010-2050
What this shows us is that the Baby Boomers, my generation’s, time is rapidly winding down, and we are approaching the middle of Generation X’s sphere of influence. The Millenials, the supposedly selfish generation, are just beginning to have their influence felt.
So to understand where we are, we need to look at where we’ve been, and where we’re going.
The G.I. generation endured the great depression and won World War Two, built the strongest economy and highest standard of living in the history of the world, initiated civil rights reforms, and saw the U.S. rise to become the undisputed world power. Pretty damned impressive!
The Silent Generation saw advances in science, medicine and technology, advancement of civil rights, victory in the cold war as the U.S.S.R. collapsed and the Berlin Wall fell. Not as impressive as the previous generation, but still, not bad!
As a result of the work and sacrifices of the G.I. and Silent Generations, U.S. Baby Boomers were born into the most prosperous time in human history. We had every advantage that our parents never had. And what happens to children who get everything they want? That’s right, they get spoiled. And boy, oh, boy, no generation has ever wanted and got more than us Baby Boomers.
We started out okay. In the sixties, raised on the promise of the American dream our parents had worked so hard to realize, we reacted strongly when we saw that dream corrupted. The civil rights and anti Vietnam War movements fused idealism with action, and through a violent and turbulent decade, the young baby boomers truly changed the world.
But somewhere along the way, spoiled children with short attention spans that we are, we grew tired, and decided that it was more important that we have everything we felt we were entitled to, which, it turns out, was everything. We had to have the new house in the suburbs, we had to have luxury or sports cars in the driveways, we had to have every toy imaginable, we had to have the prestigious career, we had to have the best of everything.
This lust for things bled into Generation X, too, and soon they were joining us in racking up obscene credit card debts and mortgages. In our need for more and more things, we plunged deeper and deeper into personal and national debt, we turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the destruction of the environment and the burning of the atmosphere. We gave away whatever power we still had to our corporate masters, and hung on to every crumb they left behind as they deserted our shores and replaced us with slave and child labor. We bailed out the banks that were screwing us, and we turned a blind eye to the ethical and moral transgressions of Wall Street and oil executives. We elected disingenuous and corrupt corporate puppets as our leaders, and waved the flag and cheered when they lead us into illegal and unfunded wars. All so we could make a quick buck, have that nice house, and drive that forty grand S.U.V.
Now, the next generation, the Millennials, my children, are left to clean up the mess my drunken sailor of a generation has left them with. They enter their time crushed by debt, in a worldwide economic crisis, teetering on the edge of environmental collapse, with limited access to effective health care.
Our parents left us the estate and we got drunk and burned it down.
We took the cake with open fists and stuffed our gaping mouths and bloated bellies, leaving nothing but crumbs for the next generation.
Boy, are they selfish.