A Generation Chasm

The Lost Ones

Somewhere along the way the U.S. lost an entire generation. Either that, or people born in the last half of the 1960’s to the mid ‘70’s represent a new and somewhat discouraging reality of an emerging world that is foreign to many of us.

Let me explain. My wife and I were born in the early 1940’s and our children range in age from 39 to 43. As our offspring entered their teen years, a strange thing happened. We noticed that many friends their age had parents who were about ten years younger than ourselves – yet bore children much earlier, in the same years as our own children.

To put a finer point on it, those younger parents grew up during years of turmoil – the hippie/yippee movements, drug use, looser sexual practices, and the assassination of public figures (JKF, Dr. King, Robert Kennedy) – and largely practiced a laissez-faire style of parenting: few rules and an ‘anything goes’ attitude in order to not offend and be hated by their children. (I know a mother who lied about the whereabouts of her daughter and one of her schoolmates in order to cover for them when they went to a party elsewhere with alcohol, e.g.)

It’s that generation of children it seems we’ve lost, not their parents so much - who went on to become solid citizens and are now part of the ‘Boomer’ population about to retire. Here are some signs of the disconnect we see between the world as we knew it and the worldview of people the age of our children who had younger parents.

For one thing, they seem to have little knowledge or understanding of history - even recent U.S. history. They can’t name state capitals or remember the moon landings. One substitute teacher in our local elementary school ‘corrected’ a young student one day who linked Harriet Tubman to the Underground Railroad movement of the 1850’s and ‘60’s.

“Oh no,” exclaimed the teacher. “Harriet Tubman was a friend of Rosa Parks and was active in civil rights during the 1960’s.”

That same generation is also caught up in technology, the newer the better, and is used to discarding toys, gadgets and electronic items quickly in favor of the next hot item. Manufacturers cater to and encourage such behavior by using so much plastic and building products that break down sooner. My wife’s cell phone didn’t seem to be charging wellone day, so I took it in to the phone store and asked to have the battery checked or replaced.

“I can’t do that,” the clerk said. “That’s an old phone.”

“But my wife just bought it here 18 months ago,” I replied.

“Yes, that’s an old phone. We don’t stock that kind of battery anymore. You’ll just have to buy a new phone.” (I didn’t; instead, we tried charging the phone again and it’s still working fine several years later).

The ‘lost’ generation also seems to have lost touch with basic manners and common courtesies, like letting you know when a present arrives and sending thank-you notes. When a couple we know was married a few years ago, both their wedding and reception were announced on-line. We were asked to use a call center service to ‘say you’re coming’ or decline, as well as sign up for the gift you decided to buy from a predetermined pricy list of items the couple had picked out. And, you guessed it, no thank-you notes later – or even a notice that our gift had been received.

For that generation of persons life seems much more ‘me-centered’ and less in touch with the rest of us. My wife’s comment: “I think we grew up much closer to our parents’ values and world view than our children or their friends are to ours.”

It’s no wonder that TV news channels now offer Facebook and MySpace connections, run a ‘breaking news’ story into the ground with 24/7 coverage of only that item, and seem to think that offering two opposing extremist views (with loud shouting and talking-over each other preferred) is the way to satisfy the modern thirst for ‘instant everything.’

Perhaps the world has changed so much that people of our generation (‘40’s and ‘50’s) are like dinosaurs. Or maybe, just maybe, a generation of people has strayed too far from the norm and in time society will regroup and recapture some of the things of value that have been temporarily lost.

Onc thing’s for sure: it’s a big subject, worthy of a doctoral dissertation by some budding social scientist.

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