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Ok Boomers; Time to look in the mirror

A minister friend once invited me to listen to a speaker. The topic wasn’t all that memorable, a mash-up of amorphous claims about how we just weren’t teaching kids values like we used to and the results were showing up in the way of an unruly, self-centered generation.

It’s a lament as old as time.

One example struck me, though, because it was so decidedly off base. He told of a Major League baseball player who was in the news because he had spit in the face of an umpire during an argument at home plate.

It was a distasteful incident, but the speaker took a huge leap by presenting it as evidence of how the current generation was speeding toward hell in a handbasket. Unlike their predecessors, contemporary players were overpaid and ungrateful, he said. You never would have seen anything like that from the likes of Ted Williams.

A lot of people were nodding their heads, apparently – like the speaker – unaware that had you been a Boston Red Sox fan, you would have seen exactly that kind of behavior from Williams.

One of the best hitters of all time, Williams had a prickly relationship with Boston fans. Once, running in from left field between innings in the late summer of 1956, Williams did indeed spit at the fans behind the dugout. It wasn’t a direct in-your-face spit, but it was serious enough that baseball fined him $5,000, a princely sum which was five percent of his annual pay of $100,000.

Unlike the guy who apologized for spitting at the umpire, Williams was unrepentant. “I’d do it again,” was his headlined quote in the next day’s paper. And he did, spitting toward the fans at a game later in the season in Kansas City.

I heard that speaker in the 1980s, but there is nothing unusual about the adults of one generation bemoaning the character of the next, usually presenting examples that are short on evidence and long on over-generalization.

I may be guilty of the same bias – only in reverse – when I suggest that some of today’s criticism of the younger generation not only seems to be unjust, but perhaps is a way to disguise, if not excuse, our unwillingness to take accountability for both our shortcomings and the way we have shortchanged our children and grandchildren.

I’m influenced by a book I read some years back called A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America in which author Bruce Gibney argues that the Boomers were unprecedented beneficiaries of the hard work and sacrifice from the Greatest Generation. Then they not only squandered those gifts but spent crazily, leaving a huge fiscal hole that future generations will be hard pressed to dig out of.

Basically, he argues that Boomers have selfishly stolen the treasures of both those who came before and those who will follow them.

Even worse, we Boomers have little to show for our profligacy. Our parents built the interstate highway system, created the largest middle class the world has known, put men on the moon, and transformed the elderly from the most poverty-stricken age group to the least afflicted.

We Boomers? We’ve created an unmanageable federal deficit, re-established immoral wealth inequalities, and left our nation with a crumbling infrastructure.

The debt is only going to grow as more Americans age into retirement. Interest must be paid on the money borrowed, almost certainly at higher rates. On top of that, money must be spent on neglected roads, bridges, dams, and water systems, not to mention energy grids, Internet accessibility, and basic human services such as food, housing, and health care.

When it’s time for a true accounting, it is more convenient to paint younger generations as lazy and entitled than to own up to our financial sins. Until the Boomers are ready to accept accountability for running the nation’s future into the ground, all the griping about the millennials and the like is just so much spitting into the wind.

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