Not Enough Fraziers
A lot of conversation these days is concerned with the degradation of American culture and society. There is a widespread feeling that too many people in this country no longer exhibit the enviable traits of hard work and self-sacrifice as a means to personal advancement, that respect for elders and traditional institutions is diminishing to an alarming degree and that an acknowledgement and appreciation of our country’s history as it pertains to the economic and societal advantages and opportunities that are afforded to the vast majority of the population is vanishing altogether.
A generation-by-generation analysis might shed interesting light on how and why the country seems to be where it is today.
Greatest Generation -- This is the World War II generation. For men, many of them were in the armed forces, fighting all over the world. Although the modern conflicts from Vietnam onwards -- fought in the television era -- have received the most immediate daily coverage, the scale of casualties and the size and scope of the battles in WWII remain unsurpassed. On D-Day, June 6th 1944, 2500 American soldiers died on the beaches of Normandy. The Pacific Island campaigns of Iwo Jima and Okinawa cost nearly 120,000 American dead and wounded. As a matter of fact, Americans casualties in the Pacific occurred at the rate of more than 7000 per week, a number that is simply incomprehensible to the current American public, used to double-digit deaths per week during the war in Iraq.
The conditions in WWII were brutal, from the suffocating tropic heat of the Pacific jungles to the incredibly harsh European winters to the scorching heat of the African desert. The medical care/technology was primitive compared to today. Communications with family members at home were virtually nonexistent, in stark contrast to the e-mail, texting, and Skype that connects today’s soldiers to their domestic life.
For Greatest Generation women, it meant working in factories, suffering through food and supply shortages and rationing while struggling to maintain some semblance of family life and raise their children without their spouse.
The entire country sacrificed for the bigger national good, unquestioningly and unhesitatingly. When the war was over, the men simply came home, reunited with their families and resumed normal, unassuming lives, raising their children and buying homes. They saved the world from tyranny and bought a Ford. They didn’t ask for adulation or attention. They asked for a mortgage. The Greatest Generation, indeed.
Baby Boomers -- Born between 1946-1964, the children of the Greatest Generation -- seem to be split into two distinct halves. A sizable segment espouses their predecessors’ traditional family and religious values and work ethic, while another segment of Baby Boomers is far more materialistic, self-absorbed, and status conscious. Many of the Greatest Generation struggled through the Great Depression of 1929-1939 and vowed that “our kids would never suffer like this.” As a result, as they became financially successful following WWII, these Greatest parents overindulged their Boomer children with all manner of material excess, expensive schools, and societal privilege. That segment of Baby Boomers has been brought up to regard that level of extravagance to be “normal,” and they’ve passed those distorted values onto their children. The contention here is that the split between the two factions of Boomers is quite stark and definite. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.
Generation X -- A relatively small segment, born from roughly 1965-1980 -- is somewhat overlooked by demographers and sociologists, but as a group, X-ers appear to exhibit pretty solid values and a strong work ethic. Yes, they grew up as technology transitioned from 1940s-1980s wired telephones, snail mail and and over-the-air radio/TV to 1990s-2000s cell phones, cable TV and e-mail and thus they have a different expectation of convenience and normalcy compared to Boomers and Greatests, but as a group, X-ers have not called undue negative attention onto themselves. Given that they are the offspring of Boomers -- many of whom in my view exhibit truly problematic ideals and conduct -- it’s a bit of a mystery why Generation X has largely escaped the severe criticism that falls onto their younger cousins, the Millennial Generation.
Millennials, born from the early 1980 through 1995, are criticized with the broad brush of cliché and generalization. But like most clichés and generalizations, these criticisms spring from at least partial truth. Specifically, Millennials are accused of:
- Being given too much too soon
- Having an unrealistic sense of entitlement, an inflated, distorted sense of their own self-worth
- Wanting work and pay advancements way out of proportion to their achievements and qualifications -- experience and seniority are not concepts they feel apply to them
- Technological advancements and conveniences have eliminated their capacity for patience and restraint
- Having little humility or respect for traditional institutions or the older generations
- Feeling that the normal rules of waiting one’s turn don’t apply to them
While these are indeed generalizations and there are no doubt some fine young people in that age group, far too many Millennials are the perfect embodiment of these clichés. There are a lot of flashy young hotshots who believe they’re worth the big-dollar payday right out of the gate and not enough of the nose-to-the-grindstone, self-effacing types willing to put in the no-excuses hard work in order to get the gold.
In short, the Millennial Generation appears to be woefully short of Joe Fraziers.
Joe Frazier was an American professional boxer in the 1960s and 70s. Fighting in the heavyweight division, Frazier was champion from 1970-1973. He’s best remembered for his epic battles with Muhammad Ali and George Foreman. His trilogy against Ali is regarded as perhaps the most bitterly-contested rivalry in all of sports, not just boxing. Frazier was small for a heavyweight and usually gave away 10-20 pounds in weight and several inches in height and reach to his opponents. But he made up for it with an amazing fighting spirit and a refuse-to-quit attitude. Yet despite his in-ring ferocity, Frazier was known for his friendly, easy-going nature and his personal generosity.
Regardless of the opponent, whether he won or lost (he won most of the time, but not every time), Frazier’s style and approach was characterized by his incredible toughness, a willingness to take a punch in order to deliver one and a determination and courage under fire that has virtually never been equalled in the annals of boxing.
The Greatest generation was dominated by Joe Fraziers, people who refused to quit until they reached their goals, regardless of the obstacles in front of them. A sizable portion of Baby Boomers -- the ones who built business, legal, entertainment and medical enterprises of the highest order by the dint of their own indomitable will and perseverance -- were straight from the Frazier mold. Millennials? Less so, unfortunately.
Modern America -- all generations -- would benefit greatly by emulating Frazier’s quiet determination, kindness and class and his utter refusal to take a backwards step in the face of adversity.