I was having a latte on June 6 with a group of good friends -- a
teenager, several boomers, and me (an old broad, politely known as an
elder). I mentioned that it was the anniversary of D-Day and realized
that I was talking to myself.
The others had read about it in their history books, of course, but my
memory was more personal. I remember corralling my four year old and
spending that day 56 years ago glued to the radio. Allied forces had
crossed the English channel and landed an assault force of some 130,000
troops along the Normandy coast -- a major event in American history and
the turning point of W.W.II.
There were three generations at coffee that morning, good friends who
have bridged the generation gap by ignoring it. We grew up in
different times but only occasionally does it show. I like Glenn Miller
and Tommy Dorsey. The boomers prefer the Rolling Stones and the
Beatles, the Xers love Pearl Jam and Nirvana, while the teenagers go for
Mustard Plug and The Hippos. That's a tough bridge to cross, but we did
it with minimal pain.
Several years ago William Strauss and Neil Howe wrote a book called,
"Generations" and they have followed it with several others on the same
subject. They have studied the generations of Americans from 1584 to
2069 and have concluded that there are four major generational types,
and that they rotate in 80 to 100 year cycles. The lost generation, or
the Nomads (b.1883-1900) is labeled reactive. The G.I.s (b1901-1924)
are the Civic or Hero generation. The Silent generation (b.1925-1942)
is called Artist, or adaptive. The Boomers (b. 1942-1960) are the
idealistic ones and the Thirteenth or what we call the GenX (b
1961-1981) is the reactive one, and the cycle starts over. That was my
parents' generation. I wonder whether there will be cultural
The G. I. generation, which is mine due to no fault of my own, is
drawing to a close. It was a good one. The authors say that,
"throughout their lives these G.I.'s have been America's rational
problem solvers, the strong ones." It was also a strongly male fixated
generation which may explain why the new feminist movement started with
a rebellion of middle-aged G.I. women against the absolute authority of
the G. I. males.
These theories get pretty involved, but they do help us in
understanding ourselves and our friends in other generations.
We have become an age-segregated society. Kids are in school and
school activities and are usually suspicious of adults. Adults
generally work and socialize with others in their same age range.
Seniors are more and more choosing to live in "seniors only" retirement
communities. And we are all suffering for it.
I had lunch one day with my friend the journalist -- who is a GenXer.
As we looked over the restaurant, we saw that we were the only
intergenerational pair there. Why, I asked her, do people tend to
socialize only with people their own age. She said that, "it is really
hard to leave your comfort zone."
But leave the comfort zone we must. When we were an agricultural
nation the generations lived together comfortably. We have lost
something very important.
The lack of intergenerational contact lets each generation see itself as
a separate community rather than an integral part of one larger
community. In a time of diminishing resources, that attitude often
leads to a sense of competition rather than cooperation. Think what
would happen if the generations started seeing themselves as not on
separate teams but as players on a single team!
Temple University's Center for Intergenerational Learning
www.temple.educ.CIL says that, "When generations come together the
results are overwhelmingly positive. We should all agree to call off
the "intergenerational war, to stop pitting the old against the young.
The so-called choice between meeting the needs of youth and meeting the
needs of elderly is an illusion."
One of the greatest pleasures of my elderhood is my good boomer
friends. We sit around and solve the problems of the world, and of
each other. I have learned far more from then than they have from me,
but maybe for all our theorizing, Oscar Wilde had it right. "The old
believe everything; the middle-aged suspect everything; the young know