Long time passing

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Last week I was sitting in a sidewalk cafe in Santa Barbara, 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 mired somewhere in the late '60s.

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 that the baby boomer generation is not some monolithic cult. We vary, just like any generation in terms of our sociology and our views on Hillary Clinton. Yet I can't help wondering as we collectively experience the horrendous deja 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 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 boomers' youthful values with a recent survey of 18-to-25-year-olds today. In a major Pew Research Organization's study, the so-called "echo boomers" show up as the opposite of their forbearers. Their top goal is to get rich (81 percent). And 40 percent of the echo boomers value charity and spirituality.

But here is where it gets interesting. According to Scott Keeler, director of Pew, this generation is a more tolerant generation than the supposedly altruistic boomers. Furthermore, he expects them to stay that way.

For example, you might expect the generation that saw gay liberation emerge from the closet would be more supportive of gay marriage. Yet today, boomers oppose gay marriage with 64 percent against it, and only 30 percent supporting it. However, the echo boomers favor it by a slight 1 percent margin.

Immigration is another hot button issue of which the echo boomers seem to be more accepting. 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 that immigrants strengthen our society, and 16 percent would support increasing legal immigration.

The environmental movement began in our heydays, yet here we are, insisting on driving those gas-guzzling Sports Utility Vehicles. When we stopped dropping out, did we start selling out?

Perhaps we didn't go so wrong, after all. Although the generation that 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. The longest generation that once cared enough to change the world had better re-evaluate their values, suggests Harry R. Moody, AARP's director of academic affairs.

In a speech delivered at Fielding University, Moody pointed out that the '90s saw a change in our thinking about aging. We are living longer, so the environmental issue of "sustainability" has become pertinent to the issues of our aging population.

As he 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 Cape Girardeau native who is a licensed clinical psychologist in Santa Barbara and Santa Monica, Calif. Contact him at mseabaugh@semissourian.com.

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