Sunday, July 22, 2012

Boomer!

In recent years I've become aware of a world wide trend of blaming the people born after the Second World War for all the ills of society. Apparently Baby Boomers are responsible for the fiscal, environmental and moral decay of the world!
More than anything else, the repetition of this viewpoint makes me realise that the world has turned and there is yet another generation who now feels in control, or at the very least, that they should be.

When Corin Dann was financial reporter for and then host of Breakfast (TVNZ One) he regularly made comments to the effect that Baby Boomers were about to bankrupt the country by living on after the age of retirement and collecting the pension. I often wondered what his parents thought about these comments, and his highly respected colleague Peter Wiliams, himself a Baby Boomer. But the interesting point is that Corin thought it perfectly acceptable to stigmatise an entire section of the population in this way. There is certainly an issue with people now living longer, and many of them being able to work beyond the age of 65, and the impact that has on financial projections, but there are appropriate and inappropriate ways of saying and dealing with this.

We all do it. We talk about Gen Y and Gen X and they talk about Baby Boomers. There's a sort of generational thing where anyone older than about 50 is deemed to be over the hill and have opinions and experience of no value to those much younger, and the reverse is also true - those with knowledge and the experience of decades can be guilty of thinking that younger people's opinions are without substance and foundation.

I watched the movie "The Way" in which a father goes to France to collect the body of his son who has died undertaking a pilgrimage, and ends up walking it in his place. One of the other characters in the movie is a younger woman who never calls him anything but Boomer, because of his age. And it left me almost despairing for those of the generation who think that they are the only ones with the right to the planet and its resources.

Every generation makes mistakes. But many of the benefits and social norms enjoyed now are as a result of the work and effort of the Baby Boomers.
When the Boomers were teenagers and in their twenties, if there was a pregnancy out of marriage, there was not only no Domestic Purposes Benefit to support mother and child, but it was the height of shame to the whole family. There were quick weddings and early babies, and much, much worse, there were forced adoptions. Today it seems amazing that parents had the power they did to keep a girl in the house until she could be sent away to aunty's to have the baby which was immediately whisked away and never spoken of again. Yes dear young people, it was the Baby Boomers who had this done to them, who would not let this be done to their children, who said "to hell with what people think" and despite the sharp intakes of breath by their own parents and extended families, loved and looked after their daughters and their babies. It's so normal now, but the reality of parental power was enormous in the 50s and 60s.

Those who have worked and paid taxes all their lives have a right to retire and collect the National Superannuation to enable them to live out their old age with dignity, just as those who are ill or disabled should feel valued by their community. A society whose members only think of how that money would be much better spent on themselves misses the point of society and community.

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