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Given the stakes, ‘OK, boomer’ attitudes are understandable

What may make today’s generation-war matters worthy of much more serious consideration is the fact that all of us, no matter our age, live on a troubled planet housing billions more people than it did during the 1960s, or 1980s.

OK Boomer sweatshirt
Shannon O’Connor’s OK BOOMER hoodie

On my way home from a recent trip, I splurged on some moderately pricey French skin-care products in a duty-free shop. As the approximately 28-year-old sales associate handed me my purchase, she nonchalantly said, “It must be really great to be one of those boomers who can afford this stuff.”

It was extremely early in the morning and I hadn’t had caffeine yet so I was quite tempted to say something akin to what Yoda told Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi,” that being “when 900 years you reach, look so good, you will not.” But I remembered that I was not in the United States, and as the old lady, I thought it useful to exercise mah-tour restraint. I just said, well, one of the good things about being old is that you can finally afford high-buck skin care. I don’t believe the associate thought me funny. I also wanted to tell her that while technically a boomer, I actually belong to that supposedly pessimistic group born between approximately 1957 and 1965 called Generation Jones. But I just walked away.

A new level of wince

When I sat down to await my plane, I went through my Twitter feed and saw more than a few tweets with the “OK, boomer” response that has become widely present on TikTok and other social media within the past few months. And I thought, all right, the much discussed “war” between millennials and boomers, a battle questioned by both millennials and boomers, has moved to a new level of wince.

While I was still ticked off with receiving what I was taught all those eons ago to be poor customer service, I summoned any age-related wisdom I might have had readily accessible and thought, hell, young people, whether they be millennials, Generation X, Y, Z or Vulcan, probably do have some right to hold varying degrees of anger and resentment toward baby boomers.

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Though the oldest boomers will turn 74 next year, many of them remain in full-time jobs, in numbers not seen for a great many years, jobs some millennials and others think should go to those much younger. Of course, many boomers are still in the workforce for a number of reasons, including: parenthood that occurred years later than that experienced by earlier generations; divorce and remarriage costs most of their parents didn’t assume; worries about future Social Security and Medicare cuts; still-active mortgages on houses that cost more than their parents dreamed possible for anything not qualifying as chateaus; and, the expenses incurred with helping children finance higher education. Not to mention subsidizing their children’s post-college basement or childhood bedroom residence lives — lives lived as such in too many cases due to stratospheric higher education and housing costs as well as shortages of good entry-level jobs, costs and shortages that seem more severe in larger, more economically robust cities. To me, some of those reasons justify at least some measure of the angry old people behavior that makes some younger people spout “OK, boomer.” Or worse. And they also at least partially justify the anger and frustration that “OK, boomer” conveys.

Generational divides: nothing new

Of course, generational divides have occurred for as long as some humans started surviving beyond age 45. Older boomers know from their 1960s youth that they didn’t want to trust anyone over 30, because if they did, such aged ones (including the most successful members of the World War II Greatest Generation) might have, oh, increased involvement in the Vietnam War. Or made the pollution that existed in places such as Los Angeles even more putrid and opaque. When I started my career in the 1980s, I and many of my female peers deeply resented having to wear the Imitation Man floppy bowties and dowdy skirted suits that bosses born during the Great Depression defined as proper office attire. Though I can’t imagine anyone my age saying anything like “OK, silent generation” in public forums because that generation was often anything but silent when it came to enacting stern employment discipline.

photo of article author
Photo by Aaron Fahrmann
Mary Stanik
But what may make today’s generation-war matters worthy of much more serious consideration (including attempts at reconciliation) is the fact that all of us, no matter our age, live on a troubled planet housing billions more people than it did during the 1960s, or 1980s. Billions more people who face a great deal more economic, social, and climatological peril than was present or even imagined (by most) 40 or 50 years ago. Will most now older than 50 be around when these perils that weren’t entirely caused or cured by baby boomers hit their miserable peaks? Probably not. Can boomers do more with the money we still earn (or the inheritances many received from frugal Great Depression-raised parents) to not hand such a ravaged orb to our children and grandchildren? Of course. Can millennials and other youth put their idealism, energy and enthusiasm to work on real solutions that go beyond insults? They can indeed. Many are doing so as the rest of us sit and kvetch about that “other” generation having no respect.

So … OK (various generations). Let’s all of us get to work. Because, as it is, neither the sharpest retorts nor the ability to afford the priciest French skin-care products will get us to a place any of us want to inhabit.

Mary Stanik, a writer and public-relations professional, lives in St. Paul. She is the author of the novel “Life Erupted.”

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