What the Boomers as a generation missed (there were, of course and thankfully, many honorable individual exceptions) was the core set of values that every generation must discover to make a successful transition to real adulthood: maturity. Collectively the Boomers continued to follow ideals they associated with youth and individualism: fulfillment and “creativity” rather than endurance and commitment. Boomer spouses dropped families because relationships with spouses or children or mortgage payments no longer “fulfilled” them; Boomer society tolerated the most selfish and immature behavior in its public and cultural leaders out of the classically youthful and immature belief that intolerance and hypocrisy are greater sins than the dereliction of duty. That the greatest and most effective political leader the Baby Boom produced was William Jefferson Clinton tells you all you need to know.
Too many Boomers high and low clung to the ideology of youth we developed back when we didn’t trust anybody under thirty and believed that simply by virtue of our then-recent vintage we represented a unique step forward in planetary wisdom and human capability; those illusions are pardonable in a twenty year old but contemptible in those whose advancing years should bring wisdom. Too many of us clung for to that shiny image of youth and potential too long, and blighted our promise because we were hypnotized by it. This is of course narcissism, our greatest and most characteristic failing as a generation, and like Narcissus our generation missed greatness because of our fascination with our glittering selves.
… No generation gets it perfectly right, and every generation has a lot of diversity in it. But it is hard to avoid the sense, as the Baby Boom generation prepares to transit to overburdened retirement and health care systems, that somehow in our quest for new frontiers, shiny new ideas, and most of all that uncompromising demand for personal fulfillment at all costs — we neglected the most important things.
I love a good anti-Boomer rant, but it should be remembered that the Boomers didn’t give us Vietnam. They didn’t give us Nixon. I only say that because it’s easy on the Right to think that everything was fine until the Boomers came along to mess it up. Anyway, I wonder what the legacy of my generation (X) is going to be. Not much of anything, I expect. We may not have the self-regard of the Boomers, but … what do we have? It’s easy to think of the Boomers as a generation that’s fairly well defined. But us post-Boomers? Not so much.