Where are the Boomers in a Bust

By Jim Selman | Bio

It’s getting hard to stay ‘upbeat’ in the face of all the economic news. The line between a recession and depression is blurring more and more each day. It seems pretty obvious that we’re entering what will be a long road to some sort of prosperity. The old joke about a recession is when your neighbor loses his or her job and a depression is when you lose your job isn’t so funny anymore. I learned today that China is embarking on an official policy of selling directly to U.S. consumers bypassing the middlemen—and that means even more pressure on the economy if they pull it off. The bottom line is that the American Dream will evade more and more of us and, in particular, the dream of living a life of leisure after retirement will evade most Baby Boomers.

My crystal ball isn’t any better than anyone else’s, but there are two questions that come to mind (assuming this sort of dark scenario). What is the opportunity in all this global ‘downsizing’? And what role can and should older people have in these potentially troubled times?

My view is that we’ve been living in a manner that isn’t viable for a long time. It doesn’t take a PhD in economics to tell us that we can’t grow forever with finite resources. Moreover, it has seemed obvious to a lot of us that more and more of our ‘wealth’ has been based on paper profits. Add to this the mountain of global debt and something had to give. There has to be more to life than consumerism and return on investment. Now we get to find out what it is.

My hope is that all of this is the breakdown before the breakthrough—that we are waking up to the fact that we’re all in this planetary enterprise together and it is time to stop acting like separate prima donnas and start working together for a change. The age of individual self-interest being juxtaposed to and in conflict with collective interests is over.

How we resolve this seeming paradox remains to be seen.

My notion is that the wisest of the Boomers will transform themselves into Elders in the true sense of the word and bring leadership to people of all ages who will be hurting and looking to make sense out of a world that we can no longer predict or control. The role of an Elder has always been an aspect of community. In a world where community has all but disappeared, perhaps our role will be to also lead in creating (or recreating) communities that give people a sense of belonging and a sense of who they are.

Whatever way the future appears, it will be up to each of us to choose—to declare ourselves, our values and our commitments. The future will be whatever we make it.

In the absence of responsibility and vision and leadership, we will drift and probably follow the paths that have been traveled before us. In this event, the Boomers can expect to witness their worst nightmare—not only the loss of the American Dream, but also the loss of the possibility we were for the world.

© 2008 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.