Margin Notes - Blog

Before Boomers Call It a Life

Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia, writes that today’s college protestors are consumed not with rage but with fear. Their insistence on “safe places” and “trigger warnings” does not signal an intolerance of bigotry, but instead “a crisis of confidence” on campus.

Now, don’t misunderstand, Gitlin is not saying this generation of college students lacks passion and even courage. Rather, he’s making the point that their anger is throttled by trepidation. Their progress in facing down dimwitted administrators and systemic bigotry is held in check by their compulsive need to feel safe.

And why shouldn’t they?

They’ve lived their entire lives in a country deformed by “unconditional warfare.” In its politics, its business community, its government, its social and cultural movements, its financial industry, even its sports.

They’re afraid because they’re about to inherit a country that is attacking itself. They’ve grown up watching their parents and grandparents do battle with one another, convinced that anything goes so long as you win because there’s only one winner and everybody else must be a loser.

Want to know why the U.S. Congress doesn’t work? That’s why.

Want to know why there’s so much corruption on Wall Street? That’s why.

Want to know why companies pay their executives big bonuses even as they lay off workers? That’s why.

It’s a hellova’ legacy to leave our kids.

I call it PTSD of the Soul. And it’s what Boomers need to fix before they call it a life.

       November 23rd, 2015    

The Great Leave Behind Others Who Are Greater

One of the principal themes in A Prescription for the Soul is the legacy of generations and the future they create for their kids.

I’m a Boomer, so the book focuses on that generation, but understanding its legacy requires an understanding of the work done by the generation that preceded it. The men and women who fought in World War II are striding off into history, having risen to the challenge of defeating heinous ideologies and truly terrible foes. They are justifiably described as a great generation … but Tom Brokaw and others err in calling them “the greatest.”

That assertion is not meant to diminish, in any way, what they accomplished. They deserve our deepest gratitude and our veneration. But talk to almost any man who fought in the trenches or any woman who hammered rivets into bombers, and they’ll tell you they are uncomfortable with such an exclusive superlative. By definition, there can only be one “greatest,” and they fought for a more inclusive, more deeply rooted legacy.

As an Army Brat, I’ve been around military people – including the soldiers of World War II – my entire life. To a person, they were proud of the extraordinary feats they had accomplished. However, what drove them to such heroic heights was not the quest for unmatched glory, but exactly the opposite. They fought to protect a country where their kids’ could grow up to be even greater than they, and their grandkids still greater yet.

That was their American Dream. To leave behind a nation defined not by a single greatest generation, but by a long, unending line of generations, each greater than the one before. Each determined to forge a legacy that would be recognized and cherished for the better future it offered to those who followed.

Which brings me to the essential question my book explores. What will be the legacy of Boomers? How will they become the next great American generation?

       November 16th, 2015