There’s been a lot of discussion about “OK, Boomer,” which can be read as a cynical, condescending brush-off of older people and their views. A younger generation would like to blame us for all the ills of the world. Why didn’t we do something about climate change when there was still time to alter its course? And while younger people are struggling to pay off college debts and find affordable housing, the older generation ostensibly lives in comfort, having paid off mortgages a long time ago and carrying no college debt.
The truth, of course, is more complicated, as many seniors go into retirement with little savings and big medical bills. Also, when we were younger, many baby boomers were active politically: demonstrating against the war, starting environmental groups and recycling programs, joining civil rights protests and agitating for equal pay. It’s true that in the olden days we lived in a world of apparent abundance (cheap housing and fuel, for example) that we took for granted. We could have—and should have—done more to make this world a better place, but who knew things would turn out so badly?
I can understand young people’s resentments, yet I think the world, which grows more polarized each day, needs us elders. Not because we’re wiser than other generations, but because, by the time we reach old age, most of us have gotten rid of our egos. Those of us who are no longer in the work world don’t have to prove ourselves anymore or defend our reputations. At our age, when we’ve lost so much—friends, spouses, good health and/or careers—we know that human relationships are what’s left, what gives meaning to our lives. If we’ve gained any wisdom at all through our long lives, it’s how to be a decent human being.
One of the advantages of being an older person is that we’re not perceived as threatening; in fact, we’re more likely seen as irrelevant. More than younger generations, we have the opportunity (time, for one thing) and capability of making this world a better place—in whatever way we can. It can be something as simple as starting conversations with those we perceive as different or hostile; at the very least, we can soften harsh conversations by bringing gentleness or humor into the situation. At our age, we don’t have to worry that we’re making fools of ourselves, because the world already sees us that way. As elders, the worst that could happen is that we’re ignored.
Maybe we didn’t create this world—maybe the worst we did was sit back and ignore situations that needed fixing–but we have some responsibility for making it a better place—if only for the generations to follow or to see the world we loved—and that nurtured us—survive. If not us, who? If not now, when? Because we’re running out of time—both for ourselves and the planet.