Across The Crevasse

25 03 2010

I will never forget looking out of my third-grade room window in suburban Chicago and seeing tear gas clouds rise to the sky. A race riot was going on across the street. They were turbulent times, and numerous voices were wanting to be heard. Racial equality. Women’t rights. Anti-war protesters. And Baby Boomers promoting sex, drugs and rock and roll.

It’s a wonder any of us survived. All that change at once can be a hard pill to swallow. It went against everything my parents’ generation believed in (even if they were dead wrong on the civil rights part). Older folks were fearful that their society was crumbling. Blacks could sit at the front of the bus, women would be treated as equals. And we didn’t just say “Question Authority.” No, it was much more blatant and involved the f-bomb (just ask Joe Biden in case you don’t know how to use it).

The generation gap some 40 years ago was huge, but Boomers eventually grew up and became respectable tax-paying, lawn-mowing suburbanites just like our parents. And now we Boomers are the Old Guard, despised by our own progeny just like we did to our parents. It’s harvest time in the wheat field of American culture.

So I was intrigued to read Nancy Gibbs’ essay in the 22 March 2010 issue of Time Magazine. In it she questions the assertion that today’s generation gap is even wider than it was in my youth.

Gibbs correctly asserts that there is often little difference in the way Boomers and today’s Millennials dress, and to some extent, the music to which they listen. Thanks to the demographic drift of social media, we are now friends with our own kids on Facebook and Twitter. It almost sounds like we have cloned ourselves to the last strand of cultural DNA.

Yet Gibbs also cites recent polls from Gallup and Pew which demonstrate a huge perceived gap…and it is the Millennials themselves who see this chasm. Worldviews are different…religious participation is much lower among our youth…we are a cross-cultural salad bowl rather than a melting pot. Oh yeah, and one more thing: Millennials are married to technology in ways that many of my Boomer contemporaries cannot begin to understand. (Yes, I sleep with my phone, too, so maybe I’m not as old the wrinkles on my forehead suggest.)

If anything, I see Millennials as being jaded…not necessarily because of a couple of unwanted wars in the Middle East, but because the playing surface has changed a lot in the last few years. The economy still sucks. And while Millennials are the most educated generation in American history, they may not have access to the same employment opportunities Boomers have had (and continue to enjoy).

But the biggest gaps between the generations are, as Gibbs points out, in hope and heart. And this is what has me less worried than I might have been about things. You see, Millennials actually are more hopeful than their Boomer parents, and in spite of wars and recessions, are quite optimistic they will one day be able to lead the lives they want to lead.

And this makes me happy. Maybe it means we have turned the tide. While the Boomers no doubt championed some tough issues that simply needed to be brought to the front burner, I for one will say that we probably could have done it will a little less rock-throwing, drugs and loud music. Maybe, in spite of ourselves, there really is hope among the cynicism we so often hear, both on the street and on the news. And maybe we can all go to sleep one day soon (with our phones, of course), comforted that the future of our nation really is in good hands. Even if those hands are always busy fondling technological devices.

Sure beats getting hit with tear gas.

Dr “30 For The 21st Time” Gerlich


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