“Take only pictures, leave only footprints.” It’s a classic ‘70s slogan, but it could have been used as the title of a new white paper released by the MetLife Mature Market Institute that reflects on the impression a generation has made on the world. “How Boomers Turned Conventional Wisdom on its Head,” by W. Andrew Achenbaum, professor of Global Aging at the University of Houston, takes the unusual step of looking back from 2112, or a hundred years from now when our generation is long gone.
It’s an interesting report – and a curious sensation to read your own obit while you’re still breathing – but as a performance review, it’s not all glowing. In fact, if it were a report card, we’d get at least a few Cs – for growing complacent (or as he says, “copping out,” “dropping out” or “joining the Silent Majority”), or turning ultra-conservative, or just turning to flab (or far less fit than our parents were).
Summing up, however, Achenbaum says, “This age cohort deserves much credit for orchestrating social change. It helped young and old everywhere to think about how they see others, how to make a difference.”
What you begin to realize while reading is this ‘difference’ is not so much about the big things or the major events – civil rights and the women’s movement, anti-war demonstrations and gay rights – but how they manifested into everyday occurrences or rather the accepted norm. Mixed-religion marriages, interracial marriages, gay/lesbian marriages, common-law partnerships, divorce, women in the workplace or on the board of directors, women in the housing market, men taking parental leave – when you think about it, there isn’t a facet of how we live our lives today that hasn’t been transformed. (Certainly Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, both Boomers, changed communication forever, but we can’t all take credit for that.)
Given his 2112 perspective, Achenbaum also imagines our future (including our health issues, our living arrangements and long-term care), and forecasts “Boomers in late life had another chance to expand a common good to be shared with peers and strangers. Preserving social insurance, valuing young and old, and saving the earth actualized Boomers’ longstanding quest for inclusivity at home and across national borders.”
Of course, this white paper is, in reality, an interim report. Obviously, we’re not dead yet and we’re not even remotely finished. There’s little doubt about Achenbaum’s positive predictions that we will rally for the environment and social insurance, and against ageism. But, as we see it, there’s more. While battling ageism, we will not only shatter stereotypes and prejudices of what it means to grow old – or yet again champion a marginalized, misunderstood segment of society – we will change the very concept of aging. Just as this generation created the category of ‘teenager,’ we will continue to alter the life course, or reinvent this next stage of life. In fact, this could just be our finest hour.
Last note: We couldn’t help ourselves. C’mon, what other final note would you expect us to end on, or ‘Who’ else could be more perfect?
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Rethinking an entire culture isn’t something to do before breakfast. But doesn’t it sound like a tempting challenge to tackle over the next decade or two?
This week, consider what you might do to nudge the process along. Maybe taking something we once did in our sleep – ‘Question authority’ comes to mind – and give it a 21st century spin?
Keep your finger on the pulse – there’s a sign-up option in the right-hand column of this page. (Or visit juliamoulden.com and send us an email.)
Julia Moulden and Trisse Loxley have been writing and editing for the media and corporate sectors for a combined 50 years. Today, they’re reconnecting with their generation and helping their clients engage with Boomers, too.