A friend of mine wrote a post that has inspired this. He was, I believe, referring to the current sociopolitical tensions, both nationally and locally. His perspective is that of a Baby Boomer, among other things. From his view, the current tensions have much to do with Boomers expecting “obedience,” and Millenials demanding “respect.” My immediate thought was, well, what about Generation X – which happens to be where I fit into the scheme of things? The short answer is, it leaves us where we’re used to being – on our own.
The actual time period used by demographers to describe Gen X is in dispute. If one goes by strict fertility rates (the reason for the Baby Boomer moniker, in the first place), one would be looking at a time period after 1964. In fact, a majority of the people born between 1961 and 1964 do not self identify as boomers, and have distinct cultural and historical experiences from their older siblings. So, in my non-scholarly opinion, I’m gonna go with the period between 1961 and 1980 – though, even the end period is in dispute.
I was born in 1971, which puts me square in the middle of this time period. Like so many of my generational cohorts, I spent time as a Latchkey Kid. My parents divorced when I was 12 – exactly on their 13th wedding anniversary. That wasn’t planned (they swear!). It was just how the court dates worked out. That particular event put me in the norm of another increasing trend – divorce rates. By 1980, the US divorce rate was 52%; by 1985 it was 50%. So, I went from the oldest of two, in a two-parent, single-income home, to a single-parent home, with mom working doubles at a nearby restaurant, so that she could keep us in the Webster Groves School District, and in a house she really couldn’t afford. It brought forth all sort of insecurities within me, though I’ll cover those topics another time.
As a child, before all Hell broke loose at home, I was interviewed by a local TV station, because of a project our class did, related to the Iran Hostage Crisis. It was a helluva sound bite for a 10-year-old, but then again, I’ve had the gift of sounding good – even when I was a mess on the inside – for as long as I can remember.
I grew up with Reagan as Godhead, Morning In America, the first of many revisits of our role in the Vietnam War, the beginning of Nixon’s reinvention as an elder statesman (News flash: he was still a conniving, manipulative President, who disgraced the office forever – with his lackeys serving political roles up to now. The current White House occupant shares many of his traits, to the tenth power).
My teen years were within one of the most self-centered, self-absorbed decades in history. Spare me your ’80s reminisces. Unless you wore the right clothes and drove the right cars, the ’80s sucked. About the only good thing that came of the 80s was cable – specifically MTV. That stands for Music Television, though you wouldn’t know it, today. Damned Millennials.
I’m sure much of that perspective was colored by my parents’ divorce. I became nihilistic. Cynical. Disillusioned. Disaffected. Pissed the f— off. Ask my parents. All four of them. They’ll tell you.
Then, things shifted, as they often do. The economy tanked. I went to college. The Berlin Wall fell. The late Nelson Mandela was freed, becoming the first black president of South Africa, representing the African National Congress party. Spike Lee released Do The Right Thing, featuring Public Enemy, and its anthem, “Fight The Power.”
By the end of high school, the obscure stuff known as “college music” was becoming mainstream, with bands like U2 playing stadiums and R.E.M. signing to a major label. The B-52s had a Top 40 hit, and by college, artists that we would now classify as “indie” were being signed in droves. A handful of the previous generation retained relevance. My top three favorites in this category are: Prince, David Bowie, Neil Young.
And, then, around the same time that the Soviet Union fell, Nirvana happened – bringing with them other rising bands that were often incorrectly grouped together as “grunge,” for the style of clothes that most of us wore, at the time. I was always more “goth” than “grunge,” but these bands spoke to me – with their unapologetic guitars, and wailing voices. Kurt Cobain’s scream was that of a generation that felt lied to. Eddie Vedder sang to every abused child in America, he once joked. And, Soundgarden – one of the most technically proficient, badass bands to come of that era. I am still heartbroken over both Kurt Cobain‘s and Chris Cornell‘s suicides. Where Kurt’s voice was the banshee wail of an untrained singer, Chris’s voice was our answer to Freddie Mercury. I think of that aria, and damn it, I still get goosebumps.
We voted for a President who “smoked, but didn’t inhale.” We learned about his many indiscretions – one of which would land him at the center of an impeachment trial that was really a farce – especially considering the current White House Occupant. We stood with Hillary, when she was indignant about playing the traditional role of First Lady. We winced, by the time she talked about a “vast, right-wing conspiracy.” Once again, we felt let down (Note: she wasn’t wrong about that, as future events would prove such).
I didn’t vote in 2000, and regret it to this day. It is the first time in history that the Supreme Court of the United States decided a Presidential election. And, it never should have happened that way. At the time, I felt it was par for the course, and I wasn’t having any of it.
After 9/11, I questioned everything. And, even further in the runup to Iraq. I wanted us to be the strong actor in an evil world, however, I knew the implications of middle-eastern conflict. I had bought into the conservative lies about Clinton being a weak President, however, I kept questioning the actions of the current administration. And, as more became revealed about the manipulation by Nixonian proteges within Bush 43‘s Presidency, I could no longer stand with things as they were.
This time, I was in an even greater minority, as a professed Christian who voted Democrat. I consider myself such, to this day.
Obama wasn’t the savior that so many of us wanted, but I knew that was going to happen. Our generation has been here, before. The difference is, we went from being flamethrowers to learning how to sustain a fire that burns at all times.
We grew up – at least, theoretically. We got married. Some of us raised kids. Many of us got divorced, ourselves, and in the process of living life, learned to forgive our parents. We realized there’s no manual for this crap. We learned early that the world wasn’t giving us anything, so we needed to figure it out.
In midlife, our generation is characterized as entrepreneurial, having achieved work-life balance, and happy. I’m not so sure about that last one, but the first two I’ll take. If you have a family, take care of it. Be present, engaged. If you want something, go after it. Make it happen. Create it, if it doesn’t already exist.
Build bridges, where there are none.
And, that leads me back to the original quote that started this whole thing. No doubt, we’re seeing a generational shift. And, Gen X is still sick of everyone’s nonsense. A lot of us are looking at this and saying, “for God’s sake, work this out!”
At the same time, I come back to a favorite line from an old prayer: It is better to understand, than to be understood.
I get why the Boomers want “obedience.” In one sense, they’ve created the rules that work for them, and expect everyone else to play by those rules. In another sense, they’re looking at their own past mistakes, and don’t want to see future generations replay them. We Gen-X’ers are learning that sometimes, it’s okay to listen to them. As we approach midlife, suddenly, “they” aren’t so old.
And, I get why the Millennials demand “respect.” They’re seeing a world they’ve inherited that is pretty messed up, because previous generations – mine included – have kicked the can down the road. Change is not only necessary, it is the only constant in life. So, in this way, I stand with my Millennial siblings (because of remarriage, I’m now the oldest of five) who can’t understand why some of our earlier fights were such a big deal at the time – or why change seems so slow.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve become the adults in the room, trying to put each tribe in their corners, lest the fight do permanent damage. And, sometimes, the hardest and most adult thing to do is let go.
I’ll spend, hopefully, the rest of my life seeking the “wisdom to know the difference.” In the meantime, it remains my goal to be a student of history, an encourager of history makers, and – most importantly – a fierce backer of bridge builders. We need to remember the real enemy – often, ourselves – and stand together, as much as possible. It’s gonna take all hands on deck.