We understand your despair.
You, the young among us, have inherited a climate that is out of control, an economy that doesn’t work for you and wars overseas that you didn’t start. And you blame us, the baby boomers, for the fact that the world is a mess.
Gen Z (teenagers) started it with their TikTok accounts, dismissing baby boomers with two words: OK, boomer. Meaning, yeah, yeah, you think you know everything but you’ve ruined a perfectly good planet with your neglect and selfishness, boomers, so we’re done with you. We, the GenZers and our friends the Millennials, now have to clean up after your sorry stewardship.
The “OK, boomer” meme caught on in one day with about a million posts on Twitter. And 17-year-olds are selling t-shirts with OK, boomer written in big letters on the front.
Gen Z and the Millennials are getting a kick out of putting boomers down. Plus, they finally have someone to blame for the state of world, which I agree isn’t having its finest hour.
But when I said up-top that we understand your despair, Millennials and Gen Z, I wasn’t being dismissive . We do, to paraphrase a famous boomer, feel your pain. In fact, we felt the world was in similar shape when we were about your age.
I know it’s hard to imagine, but baby boomers were frightened and angry when we were teenagers, too. First there was the real threat of nuclear annihilation, which I distinctly remember in 9th grade. I lived outside of Detroit during the Cuban Missile Crisis (google it), and some of my friends’ parents even drove their entire families up north (Michigan parlance for anywhere north of Lansing) to avoid the impending nuclear holocaust. Detroit was thought to be a target of Soviet missiles in Cuba. We were sure these missiles were going to be launched at any time. In October of 1962 many teens near Detroit and elsewhere around the country believed they would be killed instantly by a nuclear attack or at least die a painful death from radiation.
Then there was the Vietnam War. Back in the 1960s we had a draft. Thousands of young men were sent overseas to fight in a war they didn’t appreciate or begin to understand. Too many of them came home in body bags. These were young men we knew. Friends, brothers. As young adults we were scared and outraged over this war. We protested, and thanks in part to our protests the war ended.
Baby boomers also fought for civil rights and women’s rights. As young parents, we worked for cleaner air and more healthful food. Many of us opposed the push for privatization of government programs, the relentless emphasis on shareholder value and profits above all else (which many economists say have contributed to today’s unequal economy). These concepts flowered under Ronald Reagan’s administration, and Reagan was no boomer.
Did we feel we were we cleaning up the Greatest Generation’s mess? Did we blame the people who came before us for faraway conflicts? For air pollution and gross neglect of civil rights and women’s rights? I don’t remember. But I do know we never printed up and sold “OK, Greatest Generation” t-shirts for 36 bucks a pop. We weren’t that entrepreneurial.
Look, we found out about climate change when you did. When we were your age or even middle-aged we had no idea that burning fossil fuels would wreck the environment. We didn’t even know that burning leaves in the fall (instead of bagging them) would harm the ozone. We did the best we could with the information we had.
That’s what you’ll do, too. We expect great things from you, Gen Z and Millennials. You’ll make the earth better in ways we can’t imagine, maybe in ways you can’t imagine. Then some day you’ll be old like we are. You’ll wonder where the time went and why no one listens to you anymore. We’ll be long gone. But you’ll have your moment with the ball in your court. And how the world goes will be your call.