Tag Archives: Greatest Generation

The Entitlement Generation

There is a meme floating about the internet condemning the “Entitlement Generation.” An article written by a woman calling herself Anchormom seems to typify the spirit of this opinion. In short, Anchormom argues that the current generation of young adults (I assume this means teen agers to late 20s) lacks the virtue embodied by the “Greatest” generation of World War II warriors / Depression survivors and to a lesser extent the Baby Boom generation that followed. From what I gather, Anchormom is of the Baby Boom generation.

She uses one example of a girl who wore inappropriate clothing to work and then refused to change into something more appropriate when asked to do so by her boss. She uses this girl as an example which presumably in the mind of Anchormom typifies the entire generation.

My first reaction is that I am not convinced this girl represents the entire generation Anchormom describes. Certainly all the young servicemen and women who went off to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan refute her position that this generation is an “entitlement generation.” I don’t argue that no one in this generation is entitled in the way she describes but is that not true of every generation?

Anchormom also describes how her mother hit her with a wooden spoon to discipline her when she was young and seems to be insulted by another person reacting critically to this. The way she reacted to this criticism is telling. Instead of explaining that the criticism took the spoon out of context she exclaims “I honestly had to laugh.” This response (in my opinion) was intended to shame the person who criticized her mother’s disciplinary technique. This suggests to me that behind the spoon her mother used on her was an energy of shame, a shame that Anchormom feels compelled to defend out of a sense of loyalty. This is typical of the shame dynamic.

It depends very much on the energy that was behind the spoon. If the energy was shaming then it doesn’t matter if Anchormom’s brothers are a journalist a doctor and an HR executive (as Anchormom boasts). If the energy was shamming then I suspect they’re probably not living happy lives despite their lofty positions and passing their shame onto others just as Anchormom is trying to do in this article.

The tone of Anchormom’s writing comes off very judgmental and condescending further suggesting the motivation behind her writing is her own shame and the desire to pass on this shame to others to make her feel better about herself. In another paragraph Anchormom comes off defensive, critical and angry where she compiles a list of things her generation “didn’t do” in comparison to her “entitlement” generation. Again, the characteristics of this tone suggest shame is her motivation and are also typical of the shame dynamic.

In defense of Anchormom and her parents, the world was tough during the depression and World War II era. In that generation it was probably justified for parents to use corporal punishment to get their kids in line because the stakes were too high if they didn’t. Survival was at stake. However, survival is no longer at stake in the same way and since that time the cultural pendulum probably has swung too far in the touchy-feely direction. I’m not a fan of political correctness but I’m also not a fan of shaming others as a means of behavior control and a sense of loyalty to shame. The impact on their lives and the lives they will impact in turn is just too negative and miserable. I understand Anchormom’s nostalgia for her youth and an era that seemed better to her in many respects. But I suspect her motivation in writing this article has less to do with her desire to reform this “entitlement generation” and more to with her subconscious desire to pass on the shame that was passed on to her.

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Intergenerational Aspects of Shame – The Legacy of the Greatest Generation

Shame is passed down from generation to generation.  I was the youngest sibling and if I am being honest I must admit that on some level the members of my family all took sadistic pleasure in making me feel ashamed of myself.  I am sure a lot of this was done without thinking.  In other words they probably did not make the connection that they sought to make me feel ashamed because it was pleasurable to them.  Rather, they saw me as a flawed person and probably thought they were being virtuous in pointing out my flaws.  To them I probably came off as a contemptible, weak creature undeserving of respect.  My mother criticized me so that I would see the error of my ways and reform myself into the person she wanted me to be.   She limited me to protect me from my inevitable failures and reckless behavior.  My father criticized me because I annoyed him and was undisciplined and therefore deserved punishment.  My older sisters bullied me in order to toughen me up.

I think both of my parents grew up in families where they were treated harshly by their parents.  I have no doubt if I presented this theory to either of them they would respond that I am wrong and that their parents were wonderful people who made great sacrifices to provided for them and brought them up to be honest, hard-working and responsible contributors to society (or something along those lines).  I also have no doubt that is true.  My grandparents (the “Greatest Generation“) lived during the Depression and World War II.   They struggled and persevered and probably had to adopt a severe approach to life because survival was at stake.  Enduring these experiences probably also motivated my grandparents to provide a “better life” for my parents’ generation.  I suspect along the way my grand parents’ generation became jealous or ashamed of their children who grew up in a relatively more comfortable life but did not have to make the same sacrifices to earn it.  This translated to a sense that my parents’ generation had to behave themselves and be grateful for what they had and to the extent they did not do this they were severely punished.  Some of this punishment was physical.  But all of the punishment (including the physical) included shame.  My parents’ generation then grew up and internalized a great deal of this shame.  There was a sense that they inherited the benefits of my grand parents’ struggles but did not have to struggle themselves.  My parents in turn raised my generation in an even more comfortable lifestyle which in turn touched their internalized shame.  This shame manifested itself in irritation with my generation, alcoholism and a tendency to lash out in an extremely disproportionate manner when they perceived a lack of due respect, irresponsibility or un-gratefulness on our part.

I grew up constantly feeling like I was not entitled to what I had and that I should somehow feel ashamed of it because I did not earn it.  For most of my life I thought that I felt this way because I was inherently flawed as a person.  I now see this is the result of faulty programing (perhaps even well-intentioned).  The prior generations did not have the resources to see what they were doing and the damage it caused.  For some reason I was blessed with the ability to see this and am now in a position to mitigate its effect on my children.


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10 Things That Make Me Anxious

This list is in no particular order.  Anxiety is about fear.

1.  Being left out

My first post is about this.  This feeling has been with me for my entire life.  I was the kid picked last for the kick ball team on the play ground.  I never felt good enough.  Every time I moved somewhere new I felt like an outsider.  It is the same feeling I had as a kid in my parents’ house looking out the window and feeling like everyone else is having a better time and I am not entitled to that better time.

2.  Need to do something 

This feeling is newer.  My last post touched on this.  I remember sleeping to 1:00 PM during the summer when I was younger.  It felt great.  Today I cannot sleep past 7:30 AM without feeling panicked.  Somewhere along the way I internalized that sleeping in that late was shameful and lazy.

3.  Being Judged

In supermarkets old people look at me with disgust.  I am not sure they are actually doing this (I suspect they are not) but I feel like they are judging me.  It is the “Greatest Generation” concept that makes me feel like my generation is the reason things are worse now because my generation is lazy, undisciplined, ungrateful and selfish.

4.  Being Late

There was a time when if I was late to an appointment I would freak out in my car if someone was driving slowly in front of me.  This feeling has to do with my father.  I remember being late and he looked at me with an expression that said, “you can’t be trusted because you are undisciplined and incompetent.”  To this day I  leave extra early for appointments and usually end up waiting in my car for a half an hour in a parking lot.  I would rather do that than be late.

5.  Fearing Failure

The prospect of failure and the humiliation that goes along with it makes me anxious.  This fear keeps me from acting and taking risks sometimes.  I am better at recognizing this fear now after going through Gestalt therapy.  By recognizing the fear I gain separation from it and that frees me up a little.  This certainly was not something that happened overnight.

6.  Fearing Societal Breakdown

The Romans had it good.  Then came the dark ages.  It is possible for society to regress and break down.  Things do not always improve.  When I was younger I feared nuclear war.  Later I feared peak oil and Y2K.  I think this fear is connected with the fear of failure but on a larger level.  Societal failure is my failure on some level.  This fear is also linked with the fear of being left out.  If society fails then I will miss out on a life that I otherwise would have enjoyed.

7.  Fearing Health Problems

I fear that my diet and bad habits will take their toll on me.  My brother-in-law dropped dead of a heart attack in his 40s and he did not drink much or smoke.  On the other hand, both my parents drink and my mother smokes and they are both in their late 70s.

8.  Fearing Assault

I fear being physically attacked or robbed.  I fear my children being kidnapped or killed in an accident.

9.  My Parents

Being around my parents makes me anxious.  I suppose it is the fear of being judged and they are probably who taught me to fear that.

10. My Children

I love my children and want to provide them with good lives.  Sometimes it feels like my best efforts do not produce the results I am looking for.  I suppose I fear being judged and judging myself.

This list is in no particular order.  Anxiety is about fear.


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The Greatest Generation

Tom Brokaw wrote a book entitled “The Greatest Generation.”  I never read it but I’m pretty sure I know what he wrote about because I grew up with parents who also sung the praises of this greatest generation.  Like Brokaw my parents belonged to the baby boomers.  They always talked about how great their parents were and sort of implied how ungrateful my generation was.  They told me or implied that things were better in the past because they and their parents lived in simpler, more virtuous times.  The United States was really united back then, also more patriotic and religious.  We had the strongest economy, best education and the most powerful military.  My parents both went to college, found professional jobs, bought a house, my mother became a house wife and my father retired in his 60s with a pension.

My earliest memories come from the 1970s when things seemed to be in decay.  Jimmy Carter was the President.  Pollution was horrible.  The military seemed weak after Vietnam.  Faith in the government had been undermined by Nixon.  There were gas shortages and hostage crisis.  Crime was up.  The purity was somehow gone and had been replaced by malaise, irony and sarcasm. The golden age was clearly over.  Ronald Reagan seemed to lift the spirit of the country but something told me that it was a paler, less authentic reflection of the spirit felt during the time of the greatest generation.  The country longed to return to that time and pretended it had somehow returned but everyone really knew it wasn’t quite the same.

What bothers me about the concept of the “greatest generation” is that it implies all other generations are not as great.  It implies the way to pay tribute to that generation is to feel like our generation would not have persevered and stepped up to fight like the greatest one did.  It also implies that the US as a country was better because of the virtue of the generation that lived at that time.  They fought the war, they joined civic organizations, they were patriotic.  As such when a member of my generation doesn’t pull his own weight it not only reveals him to be a weaker, flawed person than the gods of the greatest generation, he is also contributing to the downfall of our civilization.

The concept of the greatest generation implies that my generation is somehow responsible for American decline because we cannot measure up to that generation.  It is a form of original sin.  The concept of the greatest generation implies that our generation missed out on something better and that we didn’t deserve it anyway because we just aren’t as good as they were.  The concept of the greatest generation implies also that it is our duty to feel ashamed of ourselves to atone for this.

I grew up wishing I lived during World War II when people were patriotic and united.  I wished I had destiny handed to me like that generation who were drafted into the military.  I felt lost and unnecessary all my life and told that I did not deserve what I had.  When I graduated college in 1993 I could not find a job.  I would have given anything to be told I was needed and given a destiny.

Back then everyone in the street wore a suit.  Now, not even the President wears a tie at times.  It feels like the standards are slipping but I know would have been one of the ones to maintain the standards and yet was never given an opportunity to do so and then blamed for not maintaining the standards in the end. Every organization I have belonged to was great once and decayed during my lifetime.  The US is just one example of this for reasons I have discussed.  The Catholic Church is another example.  The soulless folk masses I attend as a kid seemed half assed in comparison to the rigid, solemn splendor of the Latin Mass my parents attended when they were kids.  My Boy Scout troop disbanded while I was a member.  The fraternity I joined in college was the strongest on campus and then decayed when a kid fell off the roof during a post initiation party.  After that most members stopped contributing.  I (for some reason) felt compelled to keep it going.

This myth of the greatest generation was devised by the baby boomer generation.  I imagine the greatest generation came home from the war where they witnessed horrors.  Perhaps they suffered from PTSD.  They came back to live in a society that did not experience the direct assault of the war in that the cities and infrastructure were not destroyed.  The standard of living in the US at the time was far superior to devastated Europe.  The greatest generation saw their soft kids growing up like this and shamed them because they could not deal with it.  Clean your plate – there’s starving kids in Europe!  So the baby boomers in turn grew up with a great deal of shame.  And what does a person who feels shame do?  He dumps it on to someone weaker than him.  This happened to be the children of the baby boomers, my generation that grew up in the 1970s.

There’s the sense that I’ve been carrying the weight of civilization on my shoulders.  That things were better back then because people are more selfish and less disciplined now.  So every act of selfishness now is further undermining civilization.  When I’m bad I’m not just undermining myself, I’m undermining civilization.  But is that any way to live a life?  I did not decide when to be born and it’s not my fault that times have changed.  I’ve wasted enough time feeling ashamed for being given a higher standard of living than the Baby Boomers and yet having less career opportunity than they did.  Up yours Tom Brokaw.  It’s time to move forward put the myths of those two generations to bed.


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