Last week I was sitting comfortably at a sidewalk café on lower State Street talking with a fellow Boomer when a small ragtag band of war protesters came marching down the street, singing “Give Peace a Chance.” The median age appeared to be around 65 and their collective fashion sense was mired somewhere in the late 1960s.
I sniggered to my friend: “This is what it has come to.”
“At least someone is trying,” said my more charitable lunch companion.
I know the Baby Boomer generation is not some monolithic cult. We, just like any generation, vary in terms of our religiosity, our sociology, and our views on Hillary Clinton. Yet I can’t help wondering — as we collectively experience the horrendous déjà vu of Vietnam — where is everybody? Have we stopped caring? Have we become smug and snug behind the automated gates of our lives? Where have all the Boomers gone?
A 1967 survey of Boomers in the flush of their youth revealed the idealistic bent of this generation: “Developing a meaningful philosophy of life” was considered the top priority by 85.8 percent of them. Financial success was deemed a primary goal by only 41.9 percent.
Contrast the Boomer’s youthful values with a recent survey of 18- to 25-year-olds today. In a major Pew Research Organization study, the so-called Echo Boomers show up as the mirror opposite of their forebears. Their top goal is to get rich (81 percent). An aggregate of 40 percent of the Echo Boomers value charity and spirituality.
But here is where it gets really interesting. According to Scott Keeler, director of Pew, this apparently mercenary generation is a more tolerant generation than the supposedly altruistic Boomers. Furthermore, he expects them to stay that way.
For example, you might suppose the generation that saw gay liberation emerge from the closet would be more supportive of gay marriage. Yet today, 64 percent of Boomers oppose gay marriage with only 30 percent supporting it. The Echo Boomers, however, favor it by a slight 1 percent margin.
Immigration is another hot-button issue that the Echo Boomers seem to accept better than their parents. Two-thirds of the Echos have a positive view of immigrants and their contribution to our society, and 25 percent of them are all for increasing legal immigration. By contrast, only 47 percent of the Boomers believe immigrants strengthen our society and 16 percent would support increasing legal immigration.
What happened to us? We were the generation that spawned Earth Day (right here in Santa Barbara). And we are also the generation that insists on driving those gigantic gas-guzzling SUVs. When we stopped dropping out, did we start selling out?
Perhaps we didn’t go so wrong, after all. Although the generation we spawned may be materialistic, they are also echoing the tolerance that we once shouted from the street corners.
Yet Boomers can’t really afford to sit back on their well-earned duffs. Harry R. Moody, AARP’s Director of Academic Affairs, was in Santa Barbara this past week speaking at Fielding University and pointed out that the 1990s saw a change in our thinking about aging. We are living longer, that is apparent, so the environmental issue of “sustainability” has become pertinent.
As he so cogently pointed out in his talk: “If you are going to live to 122, 222, or even 1,000, then nuclear waste, global warming, and all kinds of other issues take on a whole new meaning. You should imagine living to be 122 because you will start thinking about the future in a whole different way.”
Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his Web site/blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in this column.