Your turn on generational responsibility

In a recent profile on this paper's back page, John Darling noted the subtitle of my new novel, "Unafraid &

A Novel of the Possible" &

and called me "a shameless hope fiend." I do have my dark days like anyone else. But I also have a core belief about human nature that points to a capacity for more collective generosity and wisdom than modern politics and policies reflect.

The belief is simple: we're wired to take care of our children. It's a biological imperative, and something like an historical clich&

233;: almost every American generation has handed its children a more comfortable, opportunity-rich world than the one they inherited. The pattern peaked in the Depression/World War II-era Americans Tom Brokaw honored in his book "The Greatest Generation."

My parents belong to that generation, and their devotion to the ethic of leaving more than they found turns out to be their richest satisfaction at the end of their lives. This much is clear: that satisfaction won't be waiting for us Boomers. Our turn at the helm was shaped by the he-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins ethic. Some of us didn't fully embrace it, but for the most part we didn't resist very hard, either.

We could choose kneel down in apology and shame &

will someone write a book about us called "The Most Selfish Generation?" &

but that's just another form of self-indulgence. I'm more interested in exploring how much genuine interest there is in reversing some of the damage while we still can.

In the book "As If We Were Grownups" I ask, "What would happen if we collectively demanded that our political leaders do more for future generations than praise them in campaign brochures?" I suggested that we choose leaders who will reliably ask this touchstone question on the brink of any consequential policy or budget decision: "Of the choices available to me here, which one is best for my children and their children?"

If that happens, and if we see that resulting sacrifices are fairly shared, we might accept policies that satisfy our instincts to take care of our kids instead of our craving for cheap gasoline and plasma TVs.

All of this moved me to ask some 30-year-old activists if they could articulate what they'd most like to receive from older people. They came back with a list titled "Ten Things Boomers Can Do to Support the Emerging Leaders of Tomorrow," which I printed on this page April 12. Their list, a mix of specifics and general principles, included involving them in our important projects, mentoring them, learning from them (first by accepting that they have every right to do things differently from us), speaking appreciatively about them to others, and developing ways to invest financially in their emerging projects rather than in Wall Street.

Their list was one of the straightest, most thoughtful expressions I've ever heard from younger people about how they're feeling and what they want. I was enthused and encouraged by it. Judging by online reader responses to the column, I may have been the only one:

"Jeff, this is way out there, man. What are you really asking? What can the generation that screwed everything up do to help the generation paying for it? Get out of the way, you've done enough. But if you really want to help, keep working as long as you can and don't collect social security."

"Sounds like they took the same courses in Visioning and Goal-Setting that several of our local city councilors have attended."

"Jeff and his comrades are way up that ivory tower. It's hard for him to even communicate with those of us out of Aristophanes' clouds as is apparent in this blather. This touchy feely liberal-speak is a favorite go to medication when the going gets tough."

I'm wondering what to make of this. At a minimum it's clear that these particular readers aren't ready for the younger folks' second request on the list: "Admit that we might function very differently, communicate differently and have different lifestyles or work habits. Be willing to mutually inquire together and determine together the best way to navigate our unique attributes."

And why aren't they? Sure, it's challenging to communicate across generations; it probably always had been, and the modern weakening of traditional family ties hasn't made things easier.

But that doesn't explain the scorn in these comments. Seems to me that exploring generational responsibility makes some people nervous. Is that because they think that the next step is to beat them up about their personal lifestyle and consumption decisions? That would be pointless; most of us are living in the same large glass house, and figuring out ways to downsize it makes much more sense than throwing stones.

Or could it be that my core premise, the lynchpin for my "shameless" hope &

that most of us are ready to give up some goodies if that would leave the next generation a better deal than what's now expected &

is really no more than what the third commenter called "touchy feely liberal-speak"?

A reality check would be helpful right about now.

is the author of "As If We Were Grownups," "Forest Blood" and the new novel "Unafraid" (with excerpts at ).

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