Baby Boomers have often been characterized as the “Me Generation,” self-centered, self-indulgent, and focused only on their own happiness. Not so, according to a report released by the AARP. In reality, 70% of Boomers feel a responsibility to make the world a better place, 57% try to buy from companies that give back to their communities, and 24% recently volunteered for a charitable cause.
I wonder, though, if a survey of Boomer attitudes would have shown the same results two decades ago, during the materialistic 80’s. As a Boomer myself, I suspect my personal experience mirrors that of my generation. I spent much of the 80’s trying to establish myself in a career and build some assets. By the early 90’s, I had acquired a decent education, some marketable skills, and a healthy bank account.
What happened next was that I started to look around for ways to make the world a better place, give back to my community, and volunteer time for causes I cared about, just as the report indicates.
The sheer weight of our numbers in the Boomer generation has swept the rest of society along with us as we have grown and matured. When we were busy finding ourselves in the 70’s, the human potential movement blossomed. As we focused on establishing ourselves in the world of work in the 80’s, we created a booming economy. The 90’s, a decade that has yet to be labeled with one defining characteristic, is when we began to take stock of ourselves once again. And we concluded that the answer to “is that all there is?” was no, that there had to be something more to life than making money and raising families.
So now in 2009, what is the prevailing set of Boomer attitudes? In Maslow’s classic hierarchy of human needs, when people are able to satisfy their basic needs for food, shelter, and safety, they first strive for belonging, then for esteem, and finally for self-actualization. This top-of-the-pyramid state includes a focus on others, desire for a mission in life, and kinship with all of mankind.
This is where the most influential generation of the modern era now finds itself — in a state of mind, and of our own personal development, where making the world a better place is not just a nice thing to do, but our primary goal. And if this Boomer imperative is anything like the others that have gone before it, there’s a good chance that the rest of society will follow our lead.
Copyright © 2009, C.J. Hayden. All rights reserved.
This article was first published in April 2009 in my blog How to Become a Hero, and has not been reprinted elsewhere. If you would like to reprint it in your publication, please contact me for details and permission.