Five Years On
Longevity – Don’t Blame Your Parents

Elders For the Common Good

category_bug_politics.gif About 18 months ago, I posted an email a friend had sent, one of those things that makes the internet rounds and may have been doing so for years – there is never any way to know. It was titled, For All the Kids Who Survived the 1930s, 40s, 50s and 60s.

I liked it - and still do - as a minor nostalgia piece and it filled a void on a day when my blog mind had gone dry. You can read it here. In fact, you need to read it to understand the rest of this post.

Okay, are you back now?

I’d forgotten about it until a few days ago when a reader named “Brian” left the following comment on that post. I’ve re-paragraphed it for ease of reading, but it is otherwise unchanged:

“Oh yes, what a wonderful email. I can't wait to have a child of my own to smother in lead based paint.

“Only being born in 1981, I am just a young'n and still very new to the world. But there is one thing I would like to say. On behalf of my entire generation, the pampered, the spoiled, and the ‘overregulated’:

“Thank you. Thank you to all the risk-takers, the problem solvers, and to all the inventors. Thank you for directly handing down to us your great legacy. Thank you because we have now inherited a greater pile of problems, so urgent and so profound. The likes of which your great generation has never seen. If only we could keep you here to fix them.”

As he notes himself, Brian is young, so forgive him for not yet understanding that people are not created equal. That few are equipped to rise to positions of leadership where they can individually make a difference on a large scale. Forgive him for not understanding yet that the anointed – almost always those of great wealth – make secret decisions in board rooms and closed-door congressional meetings, beyond the ballot box and beyond the public’s ability to circumvent them until it is too late.

Forgive him for being still too ignorant to know that no one, even scientists, understood the danger of lead-based paint in the beginning, and that when it became known, we did something about it.

I could ignore Brian based on his snideness alone, but I decided to take him seriously because I’ve been thinking lately that the state of world has become demonstrably worse than when I arrived on Earth 65 years ago.

Certainly there have been astonishing medical advances that have extended life spans by 30 years. Brian himself never faced the possibility of early death due to whooping cough, small pox, diphtheria and other childhood diseases that have been eradicated.

Technological advances, growing out of larger scientific discoveries and inventions, have made our daily lives much easier than it was for our parents and grandparents. And although I don’t see how going to moon and Mars has directly improved our lives, I have no doubt it can pay off in the future, just as Christopher Columbus’s trip across an unknown sea has.

But I’m not talking about those close-at-hand changes or even wars, which mankind seems incapable of renouncing. I’m more concerned with the much, much bigger picture, the “profound problems” to which (I think) Brian alludes.

No one mentions anymore, when we slather ourselves in spf 400 sun lotion, that it’s needed because overuse of hydrofluorocarbons and other chemicals have ripped a giant hole in Earth’s ozone layer.

It’s been years and years since mainstream media has reported on the demise of the rainforest and what it is doing worldwide to the air plants and animals need to survive.

Our president dismisses the now foregone conclusion of global warming (he’s not alone; other world leaders ignore it too) when strategies should be in place by now to reverse it, if that is possible and if it is not, to accommodate life on Earth as the planet warms up.

No world leaders step in to stop megacorporations like Coca-Cola who, on the pretense of creating jobs for the poor in India, build bottling plants in tiny villages and then pump the groundwater dry to produce sugared drinks no one needs while killing the villages and dispersing people who have no means to begin with. (Imagine if the source of water for your city ran dry.)

Forty or more years ago, we were warned of the consequences of overpopulation. No one talks about that anymore either and although growth has slowed as the world population begins to age, some countries like Russia pay women to have more babies while governments and corporations exhort us to produce more widgets and grow, grow, grow the economies.

Shall I go on? No leaders, anywhere, look beyond the next quarterly dividend and the further accumulation of wealth to the already wealthy continues unchecked, without a thought to the possibility of the death of our planet.

The problems are so monumental and so many, it’s hard to know where to begin. Scientists have warned us again and again, but they have no political power to change governments’ direction. The efforts of environmental groups, who are up against billion-dollar corporations and their handmaidens in government, amount to no more that a pimple on the – well, you know what I mean.

And the media, which do have political clout and have no difficulty saturating us 24/7 with pictures of the non-killer of JonBenet Ramsey and a movie star’s baby, have the attention span of a gnat when it comes to anything that doesn’t involve blood or obscene amounts of money.

Elders, by our circumstance, have more time to address serious issues than younger adults still raising children and trying to save enough money to educate them. We also have decades of accumulated knowledge, experience, judgment and, sometimes, wisdom that younger people haven’t gained yet. For those reasons, I believe it is incumbent upon us to contribute as much as we can muster to the common good.

So here are two questions. They are difficult, so pick just one and tell us what you think:

  1. What can we, ordinary people, do to get our leaders to attend to these crucial problems?
  2. What would you say in answer to Brian?


it is election day in new york city. a part of me just does not want to bother--even though the booth is only in another building in my complex. i go to discover again that standing in that small space is very powerful. today there are, as often happens, choices to be made that hardly seem to be choices. but my generation grew up with more hope than brian's. i am privileged to have the chance to push the little buttons and pull the lever. i wish he'd join me.

To Brian:
Accept responsibility -- that huge big ole ugly word that many spend a lifetime dodging.
Live your life with a clear conscience: Be able to look yourself in the eye every morning and be proud of the person who looks back at you.
Now with that being said, perhaps you may want to rework that earlier comment?

"Brian himself never faced the possibility of early death due to whooping cough, small pox, diphtheria and other childhood diseases that have been eradicated."

I think that you have neatly encapsulated what Brian might have been trying to convey--that we tend to romanticize what took place in our own childhood era. I objected to the "30s, 40s, 50s" pieces, myself, because I recall vividly the parts of life that were not so pretty in my childhood. Those pieces normally end with something along the lines of "...and we lived through it." I want to respond, "Yes, you and I did, but millions of my generation did not. Of her 5 children, my mother lost 2 during their infancies. I lost friends to polio...and on and on."

To Brian I would say that he has much the attitude of the "flower children" of the 60s. They weren't wrong and Brian isn't wrong. They aren't perfectly right (who is?), but they weren't/aren't wrong. Brian, go out there and help make the world better.

P.S. Some of us are still preaching the folly of over-population, Ronni. Unfortunately, there are too many religious fanatics of many different stripes who believe that they are doing god's work by procreating their brains out. Shame on them! Neither the earth nor our resources are boundless.

Great post, Ronni. I think the previous commenters have made some excellent suggestions.

What I do wish for is stronger sense of civility in disagreements. That part of human nature that encourages us to state our own opinions as if they were established fact, to take offense at anyone who disagrees, and to counter-attack where there may never have been an attack--that part of human nature to which we all succumb at times--is our worst enemy.

We need solutions, not accusations.

I think we have to forgive Brian for overgeneralizing and totally missing the point, but it's too big a stretch for me to forgive the perpetrators of his ignorance and inability to think clearly.

I guess every generation likes to think it has it worse than any other and sometime for one or another, maybe it'll become true. Global warming has that potential-- unless you think of the plague in Europe during the Middle Ages when the population in some towns was totally destroyed and the entire world's population was cut way back.

When I grew up, it was with the threat of nuclear destruction. In school, we had drills to remind us we could be destroyed at any time. Like bomb shelters were supposed to do exactly what? But they were everywhere. Polio meant we could not swim in certain favorite swimming places for fear that's where the last bunch of kids got it from. Fathers could beat their children or wives and nobody did anything about it. Entertainment was closely monitored to fit a political agenda but then there wasn't much of it anyway.

I liked when I grew up, glad I lived through the era I did but if anyone looks back now and sees the problems as less, it's because they didn't live with them. My parents' generation grew up with no antibiotics.

Each generation inherits problems and fixes those as best it knows how. The next generation inherits a different set-- some brought on by earlier fixes. I think if someone thought the world, when they came into adulthood, was perfect, most likely they are not looking deeply enough. I doubt this will change and no matter what solutions this coming generation puts into place, new problems will crop up until the time comes when the earth is inhabitable.

By the way, I think your answer to him was just fine.

tack an un- on that inhabitable...

Good post-good comments.
When I read the 'nostalgia' emails, I find myself saying, 'oh yeah, wasn't that great' but then I realize that my life wasn't like that; it didn't feel good for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with The Big Picture that those emails retell.
Individual perspective and collective perspective are often very different.
We each have our own; Brian has his. And because none of us are dead yet, our views may shift.

I agree that real problems need real solutions.
The real Answer, for me though, has to be internal and individual: to choose a set of values and standards of integrity (not blindly inherit them) that embrace love and respect for all, that focus on inclusion instead of exclusion.
Not an easy task - and not even on the radar screens of SO many.

And perhaps we might say, "Elders for the highest good..."?
The common, these days is just so...? ugh. just a thought; I do understand the context.

The responsibility for changing the status quo does not belong with any one generation. We all inherit the legacy left us by the previous generations. We are each able to do a little to change the world. Together we can do a lot. No sense wasting energy searching for someone to blame. My question to Brian would be "What are you doing to change your world?"

Brian doesn't acknowledge the good that his forebears did -- for instance, inventing the Internet that he sends his message on.

We're far too close, in historical terms, to judge the total impact of the baby boom generation on America. I think the question that history will answer is this one: does their technical and social innovation outweigh the consumerist and militarist movements that they failed to stop or aided in the last decades of the millenium, which damaged the country and ruined its social fabric?

The angel with the scales is still adding weights to both trays.

Of course, every generation will be judged, including Brian's, and my own (Generation X). But there are far, far, fewer of us than there are baby boomers. My father, who was too old to be a baby boomer, and me, who is too young, often contemplated the giant generation between us as a kind of runaway horse we were hitched to, dragging us from free love to Greed is Good! and then on to Voluntary Simplicity. People my age are counting on you to make aging cool before we get there.

Mike and the Mechanics recorded a song quite a while back titled "The Living Years." I do believe the lyrics to it answer some of Brian's concerns.

Now...where did I put that?

OH Yes!

Every generation, blames the one before, when all of their frustrations come beating on the door.

Great topic, great posts. I think Rain's post comes closest to my feelings. The 50's were not *all* that great (i.e., my granddaughter would not be alive today with the heart condition she was born with if she had been born in 1949 as I was. Now she is very close to living quite a normal life). I'm sure I'm not the only one here with a similar experience...

Sure life may have seemed "simpler" then but it's all a trade-off. I love the internet and am so thankful I've lived long enough to enjoy it. My mom never imagined the new worlds it can open to anyone, anywhere. I always feel a great sadness for her when I realize that. I could go on and on, but I do understand Brian's feelings. They are fairly normal and not all that amazing (to me anyway). To Brian I would say; go out and FIX something, anything, if you can, while you can. The significance of many small acts of caring for our planet and its inhabitants cannot be overstated.

I think your response to Brian is exactly to the point. I strongly agree with those who say we all have a responsibility to try to FIX the problems.

As someone who grew up in the 40's and 50's, I can assure you I was keenly aware of the shortcomings of the generation before mine, just as is Brian. I quickly learned nothing was to be accomplished by putting my energy into blame. I learned what I hope Brian learns that action for change is required and a defeatist attitude that what can one person do is just not good enough.

I did the best I could in my generation. I hope Brian does the best he can in his generation.

Most importantly, I hope those of us in all generations who recognize the problems, as Brian has described, will come together ... including Brian ... and do our best to correct what we can.

A good place to start is to know our candidates running for any office, including school board, know for what they stand and VOTE!

I don't think Brian was looking to blame, only for balance. Maybe he gets tired of constantly hearing the greatest generation trumpeted as the greatest without a little perspective of the downsides. I don't think he's shirking responsiblity or even asking you to accept it in his place. I think he simply wants acknowledgement that while there was great good, there was also some horrible, if unexpected, consequences.

Other than that, I think Cop Car says it best.

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