What responsibilities do baby boomers have toward younger generations? Professional writer Laura Lee Carter, who lives in southern Colorado, has been thinking about this, and trying to do something about it. But she ran up against a brick wall.
As baby boomers, we’ve been around long enough to know that different cultures have vastly different attitudes and practices around aging and death. Some cultures see their elders as a precious resource that can offer support and wisdom to younger members. In fact in most human traditions, aging leads to wisdom and respect. But it’s a tradition generally not followed though in our culture.
Historically most cultures celebrated the aging process with veneration for those who lived the longest, but not here. In our culture, youth is idealized and elders are eventually removed from society, relegated to separate living situations and then nursing homes. Aging can be a shameful experience in this country.
“There’s so much shame in our culture around aging and death,” says Koshin Paley Ellison, co-founder of the New York Zen Center for Contemplative Care. Elders may come to feel that there’s something wrong with them, like they have lost all value. Physical signs of human aging are regarded with distaste, and aging is often depicted in a negative light in popular culture, if it is depicted at all.
Psychologist Erik Erickson argued that the American fear of aging keeps us from living full lives, “Lacking a culturally viable ideal of old age, our civilization does not really harbor a concept of the whole of life.”
As a middle Boomer (born 1955), this reality leads me to ask: What path am I creating that others might follow? Do I have wisdom that needs to be passed on to those younger than me? Should I feel responsible for passing on that wisdom and knowledge? What do I have to offer after more than 60 years of living?
A recent experience offered me food for thought on this topic. The HerStory Project, a website for women who are experiencing “the realities of getting older” and offering support to Gen X women in midlife, requested articles. I offered to write an informational piece about how the concept of “midlife” has evolved through history, why it is particularly important to us today, and its psychological impact and implications. I thought readers might benefit from the older perspective, especially from a scholar who has done extensive research on the topic.
They had no interest. What could this older woman know about midlife and personal change? My response? Much perspective can be learned from those who have gone before you.
Should boomers feel certain responsibilities as the elders of our American tribe? Do you feel the need or desire to share some of what you have learned from your decades of life experience? I feel certain I could help younger generations as they themselves hit the midlife wall. The question is, will they listen?
Laura Lee’s blog is Adventures of NEW old farts.