Youthful Idealism and Boomer Resignation: Two Sides of the Same Coin

By Jim Selman | Bio

There was a wonderful article in USA Today by our new First Lady extolling the importance of ‘youthful idealism’ in these uncertain times. I couldn’t agree with her more and am happy to see her taking on this kind of generational motivation as part of her platform on behalf of the new Administration. Her call brings to mind JFK’s challenge to our generation: “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country”. This appeal to our higher selves and the innate desire to contribute is all too often lost in a sea of cynical media pundits and talk-radio blowhards more interested in taking cheap shots to advance their short-term ratings than in helping to create a future we can all be proud of.

I wonder what would be possible if we Boomers could recall and reconnect with how we felt on that cold January day in 1960 when we believed the future was up to us. What could be accomplished if we shared our own idealism with our children and grandchildren? What if we responded to Michelle’s challenge by putting their (and our) idealism to work through opportunities opening under the new Serve America Act?

However, idealism—at any age—is only a dream without action.

The enemy of idealism is resignation and the belief that we don’t and can’t make a difference. Margaret Meade said that we should “never underestimate the power of the individual or a small group of people to change the world, indeed that is the only way it ever happens”. Barack Obama was elected on a promise of change. Michelle is now restating the obvious: the President can’t change anything unless and until we the people take responsibility for the way things are, commit ourselves to some course of action, and become involved in whatever ways are available to us.  

Eric Utne, founder of the Utne Reader, has launched a campaign to transform ‘olders’ into Elders and to bring ‘olders and youngers’ together. The Eldering Institute is working to build new practices and forums for intergenerational collaboration on many of our intractable problems. Paul Hawkins in his book Blessed Unrest has pointed to the millions of organizations committed to achieving breakthroughs in environmental sustainability and social justice.

The signs are there. The young and the old are moving and (maybe for the first time in a long time) they are beginning to move together to create a world that works for everyone.

Is this idealistic? Absolutely.

Now is the time for our generation to complete what we started in the 1960s, and to do it hand in hand with today’s youth.

© 2009 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.