I Am Your Worst Nightmare
I turned 70 in July – as did 3 million others born in 1946. That means I can start collecting all the good stuff owed to me – like deeper senior discounts, Medicare, full Social Security benefits, people giving me their seats on the subway and getting my luggage into the overhead bins on planes. I’m the stereotypical Boomer in that I demonstrated against the Vietnam war (my draft number was actually #1), grew my hair long, owned and operated a coffee house for a short time, and demanded everything in my world be changed to accommodate me. I was strident, spoiled, obnoxious and shouted more than I listened. Every cause was mine. Every slight was intentional. I would have been perfectly suited for a Presidential campaign today. I even had pneumonia.
I’ve been rereading a book (Generations: The History of America’s Future) by William Strauss and Neil Howe after seeing several posts on Facebook about the uneasy relationship among Millennials, religion and politics. Having been born into the first wave of Boomers I especially like the sections on the relationship between Boomers and Millennials. The description of Boomers as we age is not flattering. The authors see many of us being people who will “grow increasingly pompous, intolerant, uncompromising, snoopy and exacting of others…The major question – indeed, the one whose answer may decide whether Boom leadership will end in triumph or tragedy – will hinge on this generation’s capacity to restrain (or let others restrain) its latent ruthlessness.” Ruthlessness? Not very comforting, is it? While there is also the real possibility that many may take on the role of wisdom figures and self-sacrificing patriarchs, it is “just as easy to see these righteous Old Aquarians as the worst nightmare that could ever happen to the world.”
Clearly, we have choices and, hopefully, many of us will take the road of wisdom by investing in future generations. I do see numerous aging Boomers interested in the work of organizations like Praxis, OCEAN Accelerator and Rising Tide Capital, helping to support and accelerate the missions of social entrepreneurs who are themselves heavily drawn from the Millennial generation. I find more Boomers who, like the aging Apostle Peter, understand their role no longer as fiery preachers but those who gently remind young believers of the qualities of a productive life. Knowing his time was short, Peter chose to rouse and awaken them – not infuriate and alienate them. He invested in them and their future. That is wisdom.
They are our investment in accomplishing what we see as our unfinished work as radicals of another era. Strauss and Howe write, “Elderly Boomers will see in this generation (Millennials) an effective instrument for saving the world. Having themselves screamed against duty and discipline when young, Boomers will now demand duty and discipline from post adolescents. They will get both. In return old Boomers will shower youthful heroes and heroines with praise and reward and Millennials will be forever honored as a generation of civic achievers.”
I would encourage the Millennials to take advantage of the desire of aging Boomers to support their initiatives and projects – even if our motives are more than a bit self-serving. There are many Boomer donors who would love to find a way to be engaged with the exciting work of these Millennial entrepreneurs. It’s certainly true at The Gathering every year.
I wrote recently about my cross-country road trip conversations with one of my daughters (a Millennial). We discussed what the older can offer the young and what the younger generations can give to the old. There are many right answers, but we concluded that the old provide examples they can trust – examples of faithful, productive lives. And seeing the younger generation’s new ideas and perspectives in their ministries and businesses gives us hope. For that, they will find our support, encouragement and gratitude.