That generation and ours

Posted 04.22.10

SHAWVILLE, QUEBEC | A recent discussion about the generation gap, how young families of today differ from the last generation's, brought back strong memories.

"Today we don't want to have work and family life fighting each other the way our parents did," said the father of a young son and daughter. His wife nodded.

"My dad was married to his work, not us. He worked long hours and we rarely spent any time together apart from supper time and an occasional Sunday." His wife agreed; she hadn't seen much of her father either.

"Our priorities are different today. As long as I can support my family, it's OK if I'm not earning 200 K like my neighbour. Life isn't about matching the Jones." His wife was still nodding, so I nodded. My wife nodded, too.

I wasn't nodding in agreement, but because when we were his age, with three kids, we had heard this same discussion many times. That was back in the sixties, when everyone was a rebel and their target was "the man in the gray flannel suit." In the sixties, conformism was the worst insult.

"The Man" was a popular enemy, although everyone defined him in a different way. To many the Man was the corporate world of markets and bottom lines, suits and ties, long hours in cubicles.

Like today's generation, we were breaking with the past; we weren't blindly following the corporate ideals. Look where the Establishment had lead our generation: the Vietnam War, atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, the arms race, institutionalized racism and sexism, and the pollution of much of the globe. We could do better, we were sure.

What our parents asked was how exactly we were going to do better - and better for whom? How would our university studies in Third World development, Gender Studies, or Philosophy give us the means to provide for our families, let alone change the world? How could we plan a retirement when we spurned careers? Our vision was simplistic : No Selling Out! Pensions were the concern of people without conscience in an unjust world.

Very similar, in broad strokes, to what our visitors were telling us: today is more important than the far-off future; ends do not justify all means.

Today's generation think the boomers have morphed into their parents with our long hours, big mortgages, and a disengagement from a political process that is widening the gap between wealthy and poor, educated and uneducated.

But this generational comparison brings the same question: How, if the new generation is doing things so differently, will they earn a living substantial enough, for example, to give their kids a university education?

There have been enough trial runs, from communes in the sixties to Wall Street's universal greed. We should know by now what not to do. We should also know how to reach our goals.

And these new goals -- something else we're not hearing much about.

Copyright © 2010 Fred Ryan/Log Cabin Chronicles/04.10