The words of the year as 2019 ends appear to be “OK Boomer” and “woke.” To this Boomer, it appears that the younger generation is blaming us for all the evil in the world, from their perch of “woke” moral superiority. They consider us to be out of touch and over the hill.
According to Merriam-Webster, “woke” means “aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice).”
It is apparent that there is a giant political divide in this country, partly but not entirely intergenerational. In my opinion, my generation bears a lot of blame, but probably not in the way that most Millennials think. Waiting for us to die and get out of the way is not going to solve the problem—particularly in medicine.
There is one indisputable advantage I have as a Boomer. I have had the experience of being young; my younger patients have not experienced growing old. I know exactly what that cross-stitched embroidery on my wall means: “Ve get so soon old und so late schmart.”
I was young and impressionable and passionately held some very ill-informed opinions. I did some stupid things—but did not do worse things because I had the benefit of learning something from older people’s experience.
I had the inestimable advantage, which so many young people today lack, of having a traditional extended family. My mother was at home, running my father’s contracting business. My grandparents lived next door. I played Scrabble with Grandma, and learned a little German from Grandpa. My father was home every night. I got some invaluable experience, not especially enjoyable at the time, by sweeping the floor and picking up bent nails at construction sites.
I got a nice head start because of my dad’s hard work. It put me through medical school debt-free. Most Millennials cannot have the same advantage. Their daddies could not have learned skills like carpentry at home, or built a house by themselves, starting with the surveying and ditch-digging with pick and shovel. “Protective” regulations would have prevented it. They cannot build up savings as I could, when one could earn real interest not canceled out by inflation, and when much less of one’s paycheck was devoured by taxation.
Do Millennials have the same chance to get into medical school as I did? It depends. The admissions process in my day was generally meritocratic, even if not entirely fair. Today, the main emphasis is “diversity.” Straight white males and Asians seem to face discrimination. A correct attitude is critical, while organic chemistry may not be required at all—never mind that the body is a chemical factory, built on carbon-based (i.e., organic) chemicals. The new doctors are different—not necessarily better.
Virtually all students will face a crushing load of debt, because of soaring tuition without any improvement in knowledge output. Unable to take the financial risk of declaring independence, and faced with new, ever-increasing re-certification requirements, young physicians will be enslaved to the opinions of their employers and specialty boards.
The Boomer generation is largely responsible. The Berkeley window-smashing “free speech” movement assured your ability to constantly fling obscene or profane words, while undermining cultural norms and traditional authorities. One institution after another—universities, the media, churches, professional organizations, charities, political parties, even businesses—surrendered to the radicals’ Marxist, holier-than-thou ideology.
Boomers also brought us the “entitlements” that are bankrupting government and mortgaging the labor of the younger generation. Most don’t care about robbing their grandchildren when this consequence is pointed out to them. State governments, professionals, insurers, and bureaucrats are also most concerned about getting their share of the loot.
The younger generation throughout its early years is trapped in age-segregated cocoons, surrounded by guilt-inducing, fear-inspiring indoctrination; immersed in virtual reality; isolated from natural family, their cultural history, opportunities to learn real-world skills, and dissenting opinions.
As C.S. Lewis pointed out, it is important to read old books because each generation makes different mistakes. It is critical for the generations to talk to each other—to break down the barriers of censorship and distrust, to seek universal truths, and to keep the flame of freedom alive. We need to be awake and in touch.
Jane Orient is an internal medicine physician.
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