A few posts back I grumbled about members of the Baby Boom generation and their self-centered ways. Some readers may have been thinking, “Hang on a minute, J. Aren’t you part of that generation of Baby Boomers that you are raking over the coals? You’ve been posting about Star Trek and the Beatles and a lot of Baby Boomer kind of things. Aren’t you one of them?”

Well, technically, yes. The Baby Boom generation is usually identified with people born between 1946 and 1964. (By the way, I believe that Baby Boomers are the first group in history to start identifying and labeling generations, but that’s another story.) My birth falls within that time period. For that matter, I’ve been offered or given a “senior discount” in some stores without anyone asking for identification. By strict definition, I think it’s fair to say that I’m one of those Baby Boomers about whom I was complaining.

There are big differences, though, between Americans born during the Truman administration and Americans born during the Kennedy administration. Truman Boomers attended increasingly crowded schools. New schools were built during the Eisenhower and Kennedy and Johnson years, and the Kennedy Boomers attended those new schools. Truman Boomers had to worry about the Vietnam War and the draft, but before we turned eighteen, the Vietnam War had ended and the draft had been abolished.

Even in arts and entertainment we are different. Early boomers remember the Elvis of the early hits and the movies, but late boomers remember only fat Elvis singing in Las Vegas and Hawaii. Early boomers remember Beatlemania and the concerts, but late boomers remember the Beatles only as a studio band that broke up while we were not yet teenagers. Early boomers went to Woodstock, but late boomers only attended if they came with their parents. Early boomers were drawn to rock and roll music; but by the time the late boomers were in high school, rock was already fragmenting into disco, heavy metal, and other categories.

Early boomers were able to vote for Bobby Kennedy and remembered his brother John, but late boomers have no memory of those two Kennedys. Early boomers took part in civil rights marches and war protests, but late boomers had no great uniting causes while Reagan was president. Early boomers have Sputnik and Mercury astronauts to remember, but late boomers have to settle for distant memories of men walking on the moon, followed by the triumphs and disasters of the space shuttles.

Early boomers and late boomers are very different from each other; they are not the same generation. I only hope that as the late boomers move into retirement, we will do so more gracefully than our predecessors.


An ill-mannered generation

The first thing I must say is that I deplore bigotry in all its forms. Racism, sexism, and agism are wrong—they are sloppy and careless thinking, and they wrongly demean many good people. Any person who views a large group of people and says “They’re all the same” is badly misinformed and too lazy to improve.

But, that being said, I must add that I am concerned for our society because we have among us an ill-mannered generation, a group of people around the same age who seem to think that the world belongs to them and to them alone. They are, with some exceptions, discourteous and rude. They know what they want and they pursue it, without seeming to care whether or not the people around them also have wants and deserve some respect.

Most complaints like mine end up accusing the younger generation of a lack of good manners. I have actually been favorably impressed by many of the people I meet who are teenagers and in their twenties. They say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me.” They make an effort not to inconvenience the people around them. They listen politely when other people speak, and they respond with courtesy and respect.

The ill-mannered generation of this essay is that group of people nearing retirement and already retired. They have been called the Baby Boomers. When they were young, many older people complained about their lack of manners and lack of respect. Even then, other generations grumbled that this generation seemed to think that the world owed them a living. Evidently, they still think that the world is in debt to them. Their favorite President said, “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” They heard the words and they cheered, but many of them seem to have chosen not to follow his advice.

Who blocks an entire aisle at the grocery store with her cart and her body, not noticing the number of people who cannot get around her? That was one of my esteemed elders. Who rushes to snatch the last box of donuts off the bargain table when I was already reaching for it? That was another of my esteemed elders. Who has loud conversations on a cell phone in the study room at the library? Another esteemed elder. Who does loud yard work early in the morning of a summer day before it gets too hot, not caring if neighbors are sleeping or trying to talk over breakfast? Yet one more esteemed elder.

Who likes to crank her radio to keep herself entertained while she washes her car? That would be my esteemed neighbor, Mrs. Dim. I did things like that when I was nineteen, but I’ve gained some maturity since that time. Mrs. Dim has had more years than I to mature, but it hasn’t happened yet, I see.

I approve greatly of neighborly conversations over the fence. I think all good neighbors should take the time to visit and get to know one another. But who stands in the middle of the yard and carries on such conversations at full bellow? Once again, my dear Mrs. Dim, who would rather share her comments with the entire neighborhood than take a few steps to stand at the fence.

Please be assured that I am not lumping into one group all those people who are older than me. They are not all the same, and I know it. Many retired people are living useful and productive lives. Some are mentoring school children. Some are cleaning up public places. Some are supporting churches and keeping them from closing. Some are contributing to museums, orchestras, hospitals, and other good places that need their support. Many retired people are improving themselves by taking classes, by traveling to see the world, and by learning new hobbies such as painting or sewing. I salute them all.

But to those who have lost the basic courtesy owed to their fellow men and women—and to those who never had such courtesy—I say, it is not too late to change. Instead of doing what you want all the time, think of the other guy first. We all have to get along with one another in this world. Some of us are trying. Some of us need a hint.