The generation that began with so much promise – helping to improve civil rights, volunteering for the Peace Corps, and forcing an end to the Vietnam war – is now at a crossroads. As we reach retirement age, the Baby Boomer generation has to consider what our legacy will be. Will we be remembered for the aforementioned accomplishments? Or will we be remembered for unparalleled greed, selfishness and hate?
The answer depends on what we do next.
You see, I believe that Boomers have enjoyed advantages few other generations have. Unlike our parents, Boomers have enjoyed relative peace and prosperity. Most of our parents worked hard and scrimped to send us to college in record numbers. Many of our parents passed along modest estates. And, unlike our parents, we didn’t face great economic hardships until late in our careers when our retirement funds should have been nearly complete.
Our generation has enjoyed rising salaries, inexpensive food, and inexpensive energy. Our taxes have been lower than previous generations, so we have had the opportunity to keep more of our earnings. We have had more machines to help with our labor. We have had more leisure time. We have traveled more. And we have had more options for entertainment.
The real question is, what have we accomplished as a result of all these advantages?
We have consumed a disproportionate amount of the world’s resources. We have polluted the planet, resulting in dramatic climate change. We have failed to address poverty and hunger in our own country, let alone around the world. And though we contributed to the end of the Vietnam War and the Cold War, we have opened new battlefronts in the Middle East to protect our oil interests.
So now what? As we reach retirement, will we display the greed and contempt for the poor as the Tea Party has done? Or will we devote at least some of our retirement to charity? Will we help end poverty in the U.S. and the world? Will we make health care affordable for all – not just the wealthy and the connected? Will we find ways to curb pollution? Will we force our corporations to pay their fair share of taxes and create jobs in our own country? Will we finally level the playing field for minorities and women? Will we find ways to end homelessness in our own nation – find shelter for the approximately 2 million homeless children? Will we contribute to the rebuilding of our crumbling infrastructure built at such sacrifice by our parents and grandparents? And will we properly fund education, so our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will have many of the same advantages we enjoyed?
Our generation has the education, knowledge, experience and resources to accomplish great things and to achieve a legacy comparable to “The Greatest Generation.”
But, although I’m hopeful about our generation’s legacy. I’m not optimistic.