“Everything can be taken from a [person] but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances . . . . Those who have a 'why' to live, can bear with almost any 'how.'"
— Victor Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning
Dear Generations X, Y, and Z:
On behalf of Baby Boomers everywhere, I offer a heartfelt apology for the planet we are leaving you. You were born on a distressed Earth in the throes of Global Warming and it's not fair. Please forgive us for our part in this unprecedented catastrophe. Our generation failed to act on what we knew was coming; we preferred to live in denial with our 401(k) plans to think about.
Every generation has much to forgive of the preceding generation. I was born in the throes of the Cold War with the shadow of "The Bomb" over my head. I would wake up with night terrors: Would I be turned into instant nothingness in a great mushroom cloud? My parents' generation, when they were children, woke in the night fearing they would have no food because their burden was the Great Depression. It seems that every generation leaves behind a fearful burden, something children do not deserve, a terror that keeps them awake at night, afraid and angry. That's because every generation is like every human being: noble but flawed, a thoroughly mixed bag.
The WWII Generation created The Bomb. They tended to be deaf to the voices of women and minorities. They also had a proclivity for blind loyalty to authority. Yet, they have also been dubbed "The Greatest Generation" for their courage, sacrifice, and sense of responsibility to the future. During the 1940s, whether you were a solider like my dad or worked from a sense of "Soul Force" like Gandhi, you understood the meaning of "the common good." This generation gave their all for the freedom of their children, and for that we are eternally grateful. They gave us so much — yet, they left us with such burdens.
The Boomer Generation dramatically toned down the threat of nuclear war. We blazed the trail for civil rights, women's rights, gay rights, and we gave you the very first Earth Day. We questioned authority. But in our fervor to be different from our parents, we forgot the common good. We read Ayn Rand and turned to philosophies of hyper-individualism and unfettered capitalism. By the 1980s, many of the hippies and politicos of the Sixties "sold out" their ideals, giving in to the more enticing "greed is good" philosophy.
But there is an upside to this present crisis. There is something we need almost as much as food and water and safety. It keeps us alive in the worst of circumstances. This soul-necessity is meaning itself. The search for meaning is our birthright; we find it in many places: our worldview, our faith, our family, our work, our relationships, etc. But our most powerful sense of purpose comes from the burdens we are handed. Yes, meaning comes from the messes we are left with. And we have left you, dear youth of the 21st Century, the Mother of Messes.
While my generation had to clean up the threat of nuclear war and shine a light on injustice, you have an even greater purpose than all the generations before you. Yes, you — X,Y, and Z — were born to save the Earth! Imagine. Your life has meaning with a capital "M." You can skip the longer version of "existential angst" that my generation reveled in. You have had meaning thrust upon you from the day you were born. You feel it; you get it. It's right at your door in the form of fire and flood and heart-breaking destruction. From day one, you know in your trembling hearts that your very habitat, Mother Earth, is warning you of your own perilous walk on her soil. She is crying out for your help. You are the EMTs for the Earth, the rescue team that will take us in a new direction.
So do not curl up in despair or vow never to have children. You are needed. Your future children are needed. You have an important place in the history of Earth. Yes, you will face unprecedented challenges with climate-change refugees, competition for water, and the entrenched hangers-on of the "old ways." But you will also experience the deep gladness that comes from a sense of mission, purpose, and belonging. Out of your heavenly-inspired imaginations, you will create fresh ways of adapting and transforming your situation. You will discover the wisdom of trees, the companionship of birds, and the enchantment of wilderness. You will plant gardens in your backyard and share your vegetables with your neighbors. You will sing songs to the Earth.
All you need to do is find your place in this great calling. You will be like jewels in Indra's Net — an ancient Buddhist metaphor that imagines the world as an interconnected web or net, in which jewels are placed in each vertex. Every jewel reflects ever other jewel. You will be scientists, teachers, religious leaders, philosophers, healers, technology geeks, politicians, engineers, biologists, poets, artists — and everything you do will be reflected in each other, part of this great web of interconnection. You will discover the joy of working together for the common good by changing "I" to "We."
So, dear young people of the world, pick up your sad hearts, rise, and embrace your calling! It is now up to you. Break through the greed, denial, and ignorance that have led to this planetary crisis. You can do it. We have faith in you. We know you won't "sell out" because, to be frank, you can't. Time is up. The grace period is over. But there is a new kind of grace afoot in the world, the grace of intense meaning — a purpose that can unite our planet as if we were being invaded by Mars.
But in your fervor, do not forget the contributions and lessons of former generations, including the folly of brute force. Study Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. for inspiration on how to conduct a revolution that lasts. The Baby Boomers' call to justice, human rights, and civil disobedience has paved the way for a new moral and spiritual awakening, one that is grounded in our sacred connection to the Earth. It is your turn now to take the "moral arc of the universe" to the next level by expanding the sense of "rights" to include the "rights of nature." It has already begun! You will bring it home. You are the midwives of this revolution.
There's no time to waste. As Greta Thunberg declares, "Our house is on fire," so choose the bucket with your name on it and dip it into that deep well of meaning. It won't be a cake walk, but all your days will be suffused with a sense of purpose that you can feel even now, in your bones, in your heart: "I was born to save the Earth!"