Will Baby Boomers Be ‘Elders’?

My generation (I’m a baby boomer) gets a lot of press. Everyone seems to have an opinion on what we are, what we do and how we behave. For every opinion there is usually an equally strong opposing opinion.

Some say we are self centered, only concerned about me, me, me. Others claim that we are over involved in our children’s lives or too interfering in community affairs.

Even members of my own generation make bold statements (most often without any kind of proof) about what we are and are not.

Unsupported Boomer Claim
The most recent one I came across was made by James E. Hughes, author of  Family Wealth–Keeping It in the Family : How Family Members and Their Advisers Preserve Human, Intellectual, and Financial Assets for Generations.  His claim in article A Reflection on the Traits and Capacities of Family Elders:

“Our current times suggest that our dominant population, the “Baby Boomers,” are not evolving into elders as they reach their 60’s. Instead they are continuing to exhibit, the same narcissism, me-ism, that has characterized them throughout their dominance as a population cohort. Age does not seem to be leading to the ripening of an altruistic state of being; the state of being that leads to being an authentic elder. No doubt my statement will provoke challenges and exceptions, and. I bow to them.”

Well, his statement does provoke a challenge – from me!

What is an Elder?
Hughes is keen on Elders. Webster’s defines an elder as an older, influential member of a tribe or community. Hughes states, in his book, that family elders play an important role in maintaining wealth across generations. He feels that elders are the keepers of the tribe’s stories and rituals, that they are the ones the tribe looks to for decisions about roles and relationships between members of the tribe.

He suggests that every wealthy family needs a council of elders to perform things like dealing with family disputes; alerting the family when the agreed upon rules are not being followed; and giving advice.

In Family Legacy and Leadership: Preserving True Family Wealth in Challenging Times (Wiley Finance), the author’s assign some of the above functions to the role they call the family matriarch.

“The matriarch passes on values, beliefs and attitudes that shape the next two generations in the family, and often serves as the ‘glue’ that holds the growing clan together. She establishes the manners, morals, and sense of fair play that define the relationships between siblings, and often serves as the peacemaker and peacekeeper regarding disputes in the family.”.

Why Hugh’s claim is unsupported.
He gives no citations.
He, himself, offers no support in the article in which it appears – no authoritative quotes, no survey results or scientific studies are mentioned.

Most of us aren’t old enough to be elders.
The US census bureau defines baby boomers as those born between January 1st, 1946 and December 31st, 1964. The 2010 census shows that most boomers haven’t reached age 65 yet – 81,489,446 are age 46 – 64 compared to 40,267,984 aged 65+.

Many of us are still active in professional pursuits.
Elders, as described by Hughes are those who have stepped away from their individual contributor roles into more of a community wide role. Many of the world’s leaders today are of the baby boomer generation and thus not yet eligible to be ‘elders’.

Of those who are old enough or have stepped down, many contribute – not only to family but also to society.
What of Bill and Melinda Gate’s championship of billionaire gifting? What of the thousands on thousands of boomers continuing to offer their services on a volunteer basis to scads of different types of organizations, such as being a S.C.O.R.E. mentor. What of the rest of that contribute in a smaller ways, as indicated in the Fox Business article published June 9, 2011: For Many Boomers, Volunteering Stays Close to Home by Casey Dowd:”

“After spending years in the workforce honing a specific craft or area of expertise, many retired baby boomers are looking to continue to use their skills as a volunteer. Many retired boomers are giving back to their local communities–something I see all the time in my neighborhood.”

In spite of our society not being known to value the contributions of ‘old’ people, or support the role of Elder, I believe that most crave the opportunity to contribute to the heath and wealth of not only their family, but also of their community and their country.

Our diverse society does include some communities that have traditions of honoring elders – and in those societies people also step into that role, which is perhaps more clearly defined than it is for most non-native Americans. Grandparents.com shows us an example in The Cherokee Grandparenting Experience.

In my own way, I endeavor to pull our family generations together, spending my time to explore concepts and ways to build our ‘tribe’ into the future. Calling family meetings, helping to ensure family traditions are known and practiced, telling family stories and trying new ways to get the generations involved in common endeavors.

So, James E. Hughes, I challenge your statement that the Baby Boomer generation is not evolving into elders – with the above facts, studies and authorities.

Do you have an “Elder” in your family? If so, who is it and how do you know they are an “Elder”? If not, would you want one? Do you think American’s honor the older generations – or do you think we look down on them and resent them?

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