Papa was a proud man, a hard-working man, a provider, an adventurer, a handful. My grandfather may have been tuned into his own program, but he cared deeply about the legacy that he would leave for his family and for the Czech diaspora that he played no small part in fomenting. His sacrifices and successes were not wholly altruistic, but neither were they selfish. He understood, as many of his contemporaries did, that his generation was part of a larger continuum, that they needed to leave the world better than when they entered it.
Sociologists and pundits may segregate humanity into generations for the sake of statistical analysis or the armchair version thereof, but that is an artificial construct. People of all ages affect our world and therefore deserve their proportionate and reasonable share of the burdens and benefits of humanity. Recently privy to multiple instances of folks shirking their responsibilities while enjoying their rewards, I fear for the example that is now being set. One specific, older gentleman was blatant about his self-interest: he publicly declared his opposition to spending money on a project whose cost could instead be borne by younger, working people.
I wonder how he would have felt hearing that statement from another’s lips were he forty years younger, raising a family, and trying to further his career. Or how he would have felt if a younger person advocated for cutting off his Medicare or his Social Security or removing his driving privileges. Given that his response would likely be negative, it was hypocritical to treat his generational progeny as a dumping ground.
Baby boomers chide millennials for being apathetic and self-referential. In return, boomers are criticized by millennials for pillaging the planet and selling out the ideals of their hippie pasts. Blame is quickly dispensed, stereotypes are readily at hand, and yet nobody is willing to see that the distinctions are odious.
Given the complexity of our global society, one lifetime is not sufficient to either destroy the beauty or remedy the ills of the world. It is a human conceit to focus on comically small timespans, on the four-year political cycle or the twenty-year passage between generations. In geologic time, we are a mere speck on the spectrum, more unified as a species than we dare to imagine. We are the result of decisions made centuries ago; the choices that we make today will affect humans a millennium hence.
Everyone is responsible, everyone is culpable, everyone has the capacity to change our course. It is equally unacceptable for the young to suckle at the largesse of their forebears as it is for the old to refuse to invest in the future.
While I have no quarrel with reasonable disagreements on tax policy, I take direct issue with people of retirement age complaining about mill levies on their gargantuan third homes. Without the education that such taxes fund, we are doomed.
I also scoff at twentysomethings who excuse their inaction by referencing the evil deeds of their parents’ generation and the ensuing belief in the intractability of local, national, or global problems. There are sufficient intellectual and natural resources available, largely thanks to our predecessors, to accomplish incredible deeds.
The temporal distinctions between people are just as irrelevant as skin color, gender, sexual orientation, or height. We cannot let our leaders divide us for their own pecuniary or egotistical gain. We are all one and the only way we will survive is by sticking together.