(Unwarranted?) Pessimism Explained

Interesting perspective from Morgan Housel on “Why Your Parents Are Dissappointed In You”:

Baby boomers are disappointed in their children. The younger generation whines too much, feels entitled to success, and lacks the responsibility of their parents, we hear. This is not anecdotal. A Pew Social Trends survey reports, “about two-thirds or more of the public believes that, compared with the younger generation, older Americans have better moral values, have a better work ethic and are more respectful of others.”

Of course, Baby boomers’ parents held their kids in equal contempt. Tom Brokaw’s book The Greatest Generation tells a story of baby boomers’ parents disappointed in their childrens’ lack of values and work ethic. “The morals have changed tremendously,” lamented one. Another’s “only regret is that the lessons of his generation” weren’t passed onto his kids. “The idea of personal responsibility is such a defining characteristic of the World War II generation,’ Brokaw wrote, “that when the rules changed later, these men and women were appalled.”

Decades before, the greatest generation was criticized by their elders, too. Woodrow Wilson, who grew up on horseback, said widespread use of the car promoted “the arrogance of wealth.” The younger generation was criticized for abandoning church, dressing provocatively, and leaving the rigors of farm labor for the ease of factory machines. Modern times stole their grit, as Fortune magazine wrote in 1936:

The present-day college generation is fatalistic. It will not stick its neck out. It keeps its pants buttoned, its chin up, and its mouth shut. If we take the mean average to be the truth, it is a cautious, subdued, unadventurous generation.

This goes on and on, a ritual dating back as far as anyone looks. It’s a time-honored tradition to be disappointed in the younger generation.


Here’s one explanation: Things get better over time. As you see younger generations bypassing problems you yourself dealt with, you become resentful. People can appear lazy when they don’t have to suffer as much as you did. This comes through as disappointment in younger generations who don’t seem to care about the same threats and worries their elders did. 

My emphasis added.  This does remind me of a quote by Thomas Macaulay: “Why when we see nothing but improvement behind us, do we see nothing but deterioration before us.”

2 Responses to (Unwarranted?) Pessimism Explained

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