Like a lot of Americans last month, I voted in the hope things will improve. Following the election, I have to say I feel “cautiously optimistic” rather than wildly ecstatic. I am a card carrying member of Generation X, that group of kids born between 1965 and 1980. Social scientists have described us as cynical. In response, I’d point out making such a claim about such a large group of people is about as accurate as a horoscope (but that sounds kind of cynical). And, to be honest, they’re right. We are a cynical bunch.
We were born during the Cold War, when it was just assumed the world would end in a flash of nuclear light. I remember hearing we’d get about fifteen minutes warning; the missiles would fly and that would be the proverbial That. At least the Baby Boom Generation had the false sense of security of “Duck and Cover”. By the time Generation X showed up on the scene, that was the beginning of a joke that ends “and kiss you’re a$% goodbye”.
The icons of Generation X tended to be noteworthy for their fallibility. My first “historical memory” is President Nixon resigning. Instead of religious figures like Martin Luther King, Jr., we had Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. Instead of sports icons like Jackie Robinson, we got Pete Rose. Walter Cronkite retired when we were kids. On a personal level, we were the first generation with significant numbers growing up in “non-traditional families”; many of our parents got divorced or were never married in the first place.
I think we – as a generation – thirst for positive change, but we don’t expect it. It hurts too much to hope sometimes. We cheered when the Soviet Union fell apart on live television and for one brief shining moment, Democracy might be the order of the day. We watched the brief flowering of hope in Tiananmen Square. I remember the shout, “No Blood for Oil!” before the first War in the Gulf. However, the Whole World Wasn’t Watching. When M-TV’s Rock the Vote helped elect President Clinton in 1992 on the promise of AmeriCorps… well, let’s just say he didn’t quite live up to expectations.
We watched the previous generation grow up and grow old, convert from hippies to yuppies. Now we’re growing up too and handing off the mantle of intense passion to the next generation. Ironically (and God knows how much we Gen X-ers love irony), because we never had those high ideals the Baby Boomers had, we may seem less hypocritical to Generation Y and the Millennial Generation. Maybe we will have more influence on these up and coming populations. I hope so; we’ve been handed a heck of a mess and it’s going to take the efforts of all of us to have a hope for a better future.