I got on a bus recently. Let me tell you, my life is one long party.
I had a suitcase with me so, wanting to stay close to the luggage rack, I flopped down in the nearest seat, only noticing a couple of minutes later that it was one prioritised for the elderly and infirm.
My embarrassment lasted only as long as it took for me to realise – with blinding, Damascene conversion-grade, insight – that I was perfectly entitled to be there because – shock, horror – I belong to the older generation.
Poleaxed by this revelation, I slumped back, many thoughts racing through my mind:
- ‘But there’s lots of people older than me’
- ‘There’s even more people who look older than me’
- ‘How can I be old, I’m listening to the Grateful Dead?’
- ‘Bugger it, this is handy for keeping an eye on the luggage’
I realise that this broad topic of ageing, and specifically inner perceptions of age, have been explored before on this blog, including here, but my interest was piqued again, not only by this defining moment on the 86A, but also by a recent Daily Prompt entitled ‘Generation XYZ’.
What, it wanted to know, do you understand least about, and what can you learn from, the generation immediately older or younger than you?
Of course, there are no discrete generations as such, despite all the efforts of sociologists and advertising agencies to pigeonhole everyone into age-groups such as baby-boomers or Generation X. People are being born all the time, after all.
However, from my own experience, values – lifestyle choices, if you will – are largely defined by what was current at the time leading up to attaining the age of majority.
It follows that my world-view is heavily conditioned by the prevailing mores of the few years either side of 1970. Interesting times: the Summer of Love, anti-Vietnam war protests, industrial inrest in the UK, mai soixante-huit in France. All in all, quite profound change, both socially and politically.
Not that I’m at all trying to claim that the attitudes of my generation were necessarily unique. Wordsworth had written (of the French Revolution) almost 200 years earlier:
“Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive/But to be young was very heaven”
Equally, the older generation’s less than favourable view of of all these changes wasn’t anything new, either. There’s graffiti in Pompeii bemoaning the AD79 version of ‘the youth of today’.
Nonetheless those times (which were definitely a-changin’) clearly colour what I understand least about the previous generation – those who came to majority in the immediate aftermath of World War II. I struggle to understand why a generation that made such enormous sacrifices in the name of freedom sometimes seems to want to deny that freedom – the freedom not to conform – to others.
Or maybe I just need to stay away from the editorial policies of the Daily Express and the Daily Mail.
I don’t have such a serious problem with the next generation. Based on direct experience, as a group they seem pretty well balanced. Although that might be because, mentally at least, I feel closer to them than to my seniors.
Looking back at the charts for 1995, even the music wasn’t that bad, if you allow that the 18 year-olds of the time probably can’t be held responsible for Robson & Jerome. Then again, there was Boyzone.
We had Led Zeppelin. Just sayin’…
But what about the positives to be drawn from the other generations?
The most important thing I’ve learned from my particular older generation is probably also traceable to the specific circumstances of their time, and it’s what may be best described as ‘stoicism with a small s’. In other words, a deep-seated attitude that, whatever life might throw at you, the only sensible course of action is to put your head down and get on with it. That’s something that deserves respect – and let’s just say it’s come in handy from time to time.
As for the most important thing I’ve learned from the younger generation, that’s easy: their wifi password.