Let’s Respect Individuals – Generation Labels Like “Boomers” Are Meaningless
“You must listen to what your father says.” This is what many of us were told over and over again as we were growing up, trying to figure out what’s right and wrong in this increasingly complex global world of ours. I daresay this dictum still carries more weight in societies influenced by Confucian values, like Japan, Korea, China, Singapore etc. than in the West where reason and the rights of an individual, be he/she a child or a grown-up, have generally prevailed. I’m speaking within a limited scope, as the idea of respect for older people is probably universal.
Anyway, a Canadian teenager can say “I respect your view, dad, but I still think you’re wrong.” Whereas many Asian parents, including myself, still find it hard to concede to their son or daughter that “You’re right, I’m wrong.” I myself am still working to overcome this communication barrier, though my kids are already in their early twenties.
We Japanese (and Japanese Canadians to a lesser extent?) also have this characteristic of having a strong sense of attachment to various “groups,” be they corporate entities, labour unions, guilds, bureaucracies or cultural and sports organizations including OB’s and even annual food and wine get-togethers by select celebrities. Commitment to one’s groups would almost always take precedence over individual personal interests.
With the electronic, print and other media constantly reminding us what age “group” we belong to, one begins to think of oneself as a “baby boomer,” “the beat generation,” the “hippie generation,” “generation X ,“ “the millennia generation” or whatever. People who happen to who watch daytime TV like news, soap, quiz show and movie reruns are bombarded with ads for medication, self-driven wheel chairs and other walking aids, dentures and other prosthetics, hearing aids, pills for headache, fatigue, flu etc. etc. because sponsors assume you are likely to be in the “seniors” age bracket if you are watching daytime TV, and as such you’re likely to suffer from some symptoms.
It might be because I’m either too “Asian” or prudish , but among the ads that appall me most, for reasons I won’t be too specific about, are those promoting Viagra, Cialis and similar drugs. Looking lovingly into each other’s eyes as the sun sets in the horizon over a tropical ocean…is not too bad. But how about the one where a guy is heading off toward the sunset on a motorbike, his wife clinging on behind him, both of them clad in leather jackets? It gets worse. As the sun sets, they screech to a stop at the first motel they see, fairly rush into their room and the light inside goes off impatiently. Is this an ad or comedy?
I’ve digressed but my point is, why label yourself a member of such a large segment of the population, as if that meant anything special?
I’ve mentioned here before that I’ve been playing the guitar for some 50 years, not that I’m that good. I started in college at the height of the “Liverpool sound” craze of the 1960s. Then throughout my career as a journalist that took me to London (during the Swinging London years of the late 60s), Rome and Washington D.C., where I made friends by bringing my guitar to parties, and to Singapore from 1981 to 97. Since moving to Vancouver 18 years ago, I’ve been playing as an “up-and-coming amateur” a lot of jams (no pay) and occasional gigs (with pay) at pubs, restaurants and, on a few lucky occasions, wedding receptions. These are happy occasions so people are generous with food and drinks, as well as fees.
A great part of it is that one gets acquainted with many musicians aged anywhere from 18 to 80 plus. Some one sees every week for extended periods, while others one may run into once every five years. One might form combos with some who might become good friends. But one also might end up parting ways with a few of them over musical and/or personal differences.
The Patricia on East Hastings Street is an old hotel that used to sponsor a semi-pro baseball team before WWII. The team actually played the Asahis, the legendary Japanese Canadian ballclub in a tiny ballpark that is now Oppenheimer Park. At the Patricia, a jam session takes place every Monday night, bringing together jazz musicians and singers, men and women of all ages. On a recent “jam” night, a bunch of us “old geezers” – Gerry (piano), Mike (drums), Gerry (drums), Ray (drums) all white-haired, all in their 80s and myself, a balding “youngster” at 70 – were sitting at a table right up front enjoying ourselves. Then Ray got called so he went up on the stage and played a number. Called up next to play the drums was Jason, a pleasant and likeable youngster who’s also a regular there. That was when one of us seniors didn’t miss the opportunity to yell out: “Come on Jason, you can play better than him!”
We seniors were laughing our heads off, but the joke was apparently lost on the young Capilano College jazz students around us, still purists aspiring toward the heights of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, because one of them shouted out in alarm: “This is not a competition!” We were like that too, once… was the wistful thought that ran through my mind and maybe the others’ too.
It is one of my favorite authors, Shizuka Ijūin’s weekly advice column Nayamuga Hana (roughly, Worrying Can Also Be a Spice of Life) that recently taught me that it is ridiculous for one to think “I’m of the such-and-such generation.” A reader wrote in as follows.
“I’m of the so-called rosujene sedai (literally, lost-generation generation) and I’m so depressed with the bubble generation people about 10 years my senior that I can hardly stand it. Barely capable, they were still able to get hired by a big city bank due to a prosperous economy, and now throw their weight around the office at my company to which they’ve been seconded. In contrast, we faced the “ice age” when we were seeking employment, and we are still always getting the short end of the stick.”
“Mr Ijūin is also one of the kachi gumi (winners) who’s been successful since the prosperous times in a glamorous field, aren’t you? Do you not understand the feelings of young people like me?”
Mr Ijūin’s answer is clear and to the point: “Young kimi (fellow), you’d better stop using incomprehensible words like ‘lost generation.’ There’s nothing more baka (idiotic) than lumping together one whole generation in a single word. It creeps me out every time I hear the word dankai sedai (babyboomers). There’s no other Japanese word that’s quite so vulgar. Please do not lump together individual beings with such an insulting word. The ‘bubble generation’ is the same. A ‘bubble’ was not a phenomenon unique to those times. In medieval Europe, too, there was once a crazy economic phenomenon when one tulip bulb could buy you a house.”
“Also, you’d better stop saying, we’re always getting the short end of the stick. If someone has to get the short end, you need to have enough gumption to say, I’ll stick the short end to them. That’s what a grown-up man must have, surely. …Listen, those who size up other people with the “winners vs. losers” yardstick are nothing but chicken-hearted wretches who spend all their waking hours gawking at people around them because they can’t stop thinking about them.…Labels are what idiots like to use, but what kind of an idiot puts a label on himself?”
Doesn’t that clear the air? I myself have decided to stop using the word “babyboomers” meaninglessly. As the coolness of autumn sets in, please eat something delicious and do take good care of yourselves.