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SENTRY JOURNAL » generation x, generation y, generation z, greatest generation, silent generation » Great Expectations

Great Expectations

by RightHandMan

No, I’m not going try and rewrite the great Charles Dickens novel – or even attempt to use it as a parallel; the title just fits my thoughts about this generation. A lot has been written about the new generations (X, Y, and Z) and much of it has been negative. Speak up about their laziness, selfishness, and ineptness in any barber shop and you’re likely to get many supporters that piggy back those sentiments.

It is easy to write this generation off especially when they’re unfairly compared to what is considered the “greatest generation”. Generations X,Y and Z never saved the world from an evil empire, and they never had to survive the Great Depression. People forget, however, that the “greatest generation” was followed by the so called “silent generation”.

Time magazine coined the phrase “silent generation” when they gave this fatalistic description,
“Youth today is waiting for the hand of fate to fall on its shoulders, meanwhile working fairly hard and saying almost nothing. The most startling fact about the younger generation is its silence. With some rare exceptions, youth is nowhere near the rostrum. By comparison with the Flaming Youth of their fathers & mothers, today’s younger generation is a still, small flame. It does not issue manifestos, make speeches or carry posters. It has been called the Silent Generation.”

The “silent generation” it turns out, was misjudged by Time and their preceding generations. How silent was Martin Luther King Jr., Noam Chomsky, Robert F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, James Brown, Jesse Jackson, Ron Paul, and Hugh Heffner? The “silent generation” brought the 60’s rock revolution with Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, Jimi Hendrix and imported those British Beetles. Marlon Brando, Marilyn Monroe, and Clint Eastwood helped change cinema forever. Soul music as well as rhythm and blues music matured and were highlighted by Marvin Gaye, B.B. King, and Tina Turner. Many of those who marched, spoke, and fought for the Civil Rights movement were from this “silent generation” like Ralph Albernathy, Rutledge Pearson, and Unita Blackwell. The entire Apollo 11 crew belongs to this “silent” group although Armstrong’s “One Small Step” quote is the most recognized voice recording of all time.

It was the “silent generation” who made public protesting an art, changed political policy with united voices, and undermined war efforts with loud mouths. They made up the majority of the world population when the Berlin Wall was toppled, when the Soviet Union collapsed, and when the Cold War ended. They created lasers, satellites, minicomputers, home video cameras, and the internet. They started the counterculture, anti-war, Chicano, and feminist movements. This generation was not silent. Not here. Not in America.

Perhaps they just weren’t listened to. Perhaps the generation that preceded them didn’t give them a chance. Far be it from me to argue against the label “the greatest generation”, but how different was the “silent generation”? They were born on the tail end of the Great Depression, their fathers went to WWII, they faced the Vietnam and Korean wars as adults, and the Cold War was an ever present danger until recently. They faced much, yet they spoke out against war, racism, and sexism like no generation prior. Agree with them or not, (and I tend not to) they were loud and they changed the world.

My point isn’t to glorify this generation, but to offer some perspective. The same rhetoric that we use to write off this generation was used to write off the last. It is a perverse cycle that reeks of pessimism and lacks hope. In fact, they are our greatest hope…our only hope. Did the previous generations serve them any better than they expected to be served? Who gave them their debt? Who created programs for immediate use but future payment? We sulk as we look at our current state and forget who got us to this point and then we moan at the idea of the newer generations taking control of it. We scoff at their ignorance without noting that we were the teachers and mock their laziness without conceding that we were their motivation.

One thing is for certain, our future leaders will come from the newer generations. These newer generations will be shaped by their circumstances and their influences. If we do not teach them, someone else will. The burden of what they learn isn’t theirs, it is ours. Political youth recruitment shouldn’t be about winning elections, but about trailblazing their future to success.

The coming generations offer more hope than we ever dared imagine. We should expect great things and present them with encouragement, but we tend to highlight their deficiencies and compare them to their predecessors.

The generations we marvel at were no greater in nature; they were shaped by their struggles. They were brave because fresh faced kids thrown into the fires of war require bravery to survive. They were appreciative because having something for dinner wasn’t always a reality. They were noble because the contrast with the evil that surrounded them made them appear so. The greatest generation was the greatest because anything less would have been too little.

Do we dare wish this upon our children?

When faced with the question we must meet it with denial, yet this may still be their reality. There are great evils lurking in this world that are not yet extinguished. If they emerge and seize this generation will it be because of their shortcomings, or ours?


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Filed under: generation x, generation y, generation z, greatest generation, silent generation

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  • World Spinner December 12, 2010 at 4:25 PM


    Here at World Spinner we are debating the same thing……