Written in on Honor of My Dear Grandparents, to Whom I Owe Most of My Moral Foundation
Brokaw was right. They were the Greatest Generation. It’s aggravating that I even have to qualify it. I find it hard to say anything about them that hasn’t become cliche. They were children in a period of desperate poverty. They were teenagers and young adults who gave their lives to fight the fascist and imperialist powers of murderous bigotry. In their time, many groups of people had less of or no voice. I’m happy we’re more inclusive of gay people, women, and different ethnic backgrounds today. But Christ, do we have to throw the baby out with the bath water? Let’s recognize their truly exceptional place in history. Generations before them participated in slavery, profited from the imperial conquest of sovereign nations, and decimated the environment in the name of industry. Generations after them waged unjust wars, bankrupted public programs, and yielded to materialism and corporate greed. This one group, this tiny bracket on the timeline of world history, was pound for pound, the best collective of human beings ever to inhabit the world. I didn’t say they were perfect. We are better stewards of the environment today (sort of). We are more inclusive (in many ways). I said they were the best. As a culture, their redeeming qualities trumped their flaws. They were localists. They were charitable. They were civic minded. They were morally principled. And now, they’re all but gone. I hope we take advantage of every bit of wisdom of those that are still with us. I hope they stay with us for many, many, years more. I hope we remember them not for their few faults, but look to them for inspiration the collective will, the selflessness, and the tenacity to overcome the world’s greatest challenges. They can be overcome. What luxuries can I sacrifice for the benefit of other people? How can I portray my respect for other people in my day to day behavior? When will I stop looking at this person as a stranger and see her as a neighbor to whom I bear a responsibility? I have to force myself to ask myself these questions. My grandparents didn’t. It was just the way they were wired. That’s what makes them the best.