A baby boomer’s sense of responsibility toward younger generations

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.

Laura Lee Carter

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.

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6 Comments

  1. Good thoughtful piece. Us baby boomers certainly didn’t have much respect for our elders. Remember, ‘Don’t trust anyone over thirty?’ I could say, what goes around… But I won’t. You are very right on about how this culture treats elderly people. I spent some time in Spain and elders there seemed to have more respect and better lives. And Asian cultures certainly have more respect for their elders. Having worked this last semester as a substitute teacher I have to say that not only did many of the students have no respect for me as an ‘elder,’ many of them were downright antagonistic as they do not have much respect for authority. This seemed (to me) partly due to the school system which seemed to ‘coddle’ ill-behaving students and expect ‘subs’ to just ‘suck it up.’ Anyway, let’s see if I can inject a note of optimism in here somewhere… Well, changing this broad cultural attitude toward elders will take generations. Will elders be the one to take the lead? Probably not. It will take young people. I look around and I don’t know where they are. However, I know some are out there. That’s the best I can do.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences and your take on generational respect. It seems safe to say most of us have little understanding or respect for different generations in our country. This looks like a recipe for disaster from my 63 year old perspective. I do understand the young peoples’ animosity towards us old farts, but I also see how much we could help each other survive in a very difficult time in American history. WE just need to communicate in positive ways. How do we make that happen if they have no interest in the lessons we have learned?

  2. My husband and I just wish that the young ‘uns in our families would send us a birthday card, like we acknowledge them, often with cash inside… but then, we didn’t do this for our aunts and uncles either.

    1. Interesting. My parents complained about the same problem with their grandchildren, so they stopped sending anything. They rarely received any kind of thank you or acknowledgement of any kind when they sent birthday cards or gifts.

  3. I’d like to say I’m surprised but I’m really not. I started my own blog with the intent to help pass what I’d learned as a working mom on to those who are younger and where I was 10-15 years ago. However, that age group is the group least likely to read what I write! In fact, the group in the 25-35 range follow me much more than those between 35 and my age which I admit has really surprised me. Surprises never seem to cease for me these days.

    1. Hey Shelley, that is EXACTLY what happened to me with my “Midlife Crisis Queen” blog! Apparently they think they are above midlife crisis, just like Carl Jung and Erik Erikson did, until they experienced it themselves… “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” — Sir Winston Churchill

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