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Bear column: OK Boomer

“I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint.”

— Hesiod, 8th century BC

I have to smile whenever I hear or read the latest meme intended to dismiss an older generation — “OK Boomer” — because such phrases, and the sentiments behind their creation, have been around since at least the time of Hesiod, probably much longer.

Gen-X had a similar dismissive phrase: “whatever.” But we Boomers, warned by our parents to be “seen and not heard” were forced to develop a nonverbal form of dismissal: the eye roll. If executed properly, with head turned away, the eye roll was effective at both dismissing the worst of our parents’ condescending attitudes, while also preventing us from getting smacked in the face for our disrespect.

Talking back, as it was called then, was not allowed, even if your intent was simply to defend yourself.

So I actually enjoy hearing “OK Boomer,” because it means that the younger generation has been taught to call it the way they see it, without fear of retaliation. Or maybe they just think we Boomers are old and not much of a threat anymore.

Either way, it’s a good barometer of the fight lurking in the subconscious of a generation gearing up to take charge.

There’s another popular meme, probably created by a Boomer, that says Millennials developed a sense of entitlement because, as youths, they were given medals simply for participating. I don’t think that argument holds up to closer scrutiny.

First of all, it was us Boomers who were handing out those medals, possibly in a misguided attempt to not be like our parents. And second, I doubt if those experiences had any long-range negative effect on Millennials. They’re smarter than that.

As dad to two Millennial daughters, I collected boxes full of participation ribbons, medals and trophies when they were young, only to find out that they had no interest in any of it after they became adults. They saw those “awards” for what they were — an attempt by their parents to help them feel good about themselves.

The truth, as I see it, is that the war of memes between the generations is all just a big misunderstanding. Like seemingly everything else in our world today, it’s a case of humans giving in to our tribal instincts — an “us vs. them” moment.

Psychologists say that it’s every child’s greatest wish for their parents’ generation to understand them. The flip side of that is that elders want to be seen by the younger generation as wisened sages.

From my perspective, this is where the misunderstanding occurs: We Boomers aren’t intentionally trying to sound condescending; we’re trying to sound wise. We want to give our children the benefit of our life experience, not because we think we’re smarter, but because we’ve seen and experienced a few things that could be useful information for them. But of course, that’s not the way our words are perceived.

The truth is, we thought our parents were condescending, too. In the ’60s and ’70s our parents hated everything about us — our hair, our clothes, our music, our drug use, our attitudes — and they weren’t shy about telling us how disappointed we made them.

As an adult I’ve looked back on those times and wondered if my parents were right to criticize us, not about our hair, clothes or music, but about the way we were conducting our lives. We were — I was — a bit lackadaisical and unmotivated, moving from one thing to another without a clear plan for my future.

But I was smart, and I got over it, just like my smart Millennial daughters and their generation got over it.

Now we all need to get over our petty differences and realize how much we do have in common.

Jeff Bear is a Reporter and Copy Editor for the Post Independent. You can reach him at jbear@postindependent.com


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