I would not want my brother to rule the world. At 21, nearly 22, he is filled with self-assured, cocky eagerness. "Here," he says to my father after the graduation ceremony is over, "take a picture of me and John, two future energy czars." He is not joking. His friend John wears a three-piece gray suit, close-clipped blond hair, has a fiercely confident, intelligent face. They pose together, arms around each other, comrades preparing to enter the world. They bear a striking different manner from myself and my peers, who graduated in 1975. We in turn were different from my sister who left college her sophomore year in 1969, or my oldest sister who graduated from college in 1971.
My parents are pleased that young people today have gone the full circle back to the old values. My brother and his friends are clean-cut, and perhaps mimic our fathers and mothers as they remember themselves. My brother's group does not threaten my parents, although my father remarked on their apparent sophistication, attributing this to the sexual revolution and the absence of taboos in contemporary society. My father recalls the innocence of his generation as they were launched out of school and into jobs, unwashed behind the ears, with sweet, high voices. At my father's first job, his co-workers asked him to take the afternoon off to go to the movies. My father declined - he had to finish his book. I can imagine him alone in the office working hard into the night taking himself and his tasks seriously, fearful of his superiors in the sense that man is cautioned to fear the Lord in the Bible, serve Him with reverence adn awe.
But in our family we have run the gambet of responses to responsibility. I see it this way: My parents ask their four children, "Which of you is willing to work?" Sister Number One, the oldest, says "I will because I do what is expected of me, but I will be miserable and resent you for making me feel responsible and I'll let you know I'm miserable." She is the first of our generation, coming of age just before the days of large-scale campus unrest.
"No way!" said Sister Number Two. "Everything you do is crazy, I'm lost in your world, there's no room for what I want. Society is crazy, wasteful, oblivious to the simple values in life of self-sufficiency and self-fulfillment. I'm going out West," and off she went.
My generation, siblings of 1969 and thereabouts - "hippies" - was more confused, emotionally unstable. We could not handle the responsibilities of our futures, had no real causes, lapsed into mental instittions, indulged in our mental illnesses. Objectively, we had everything we needed to succeed in the world - intelligence, college educations, creative skills. But for some reason we were afraid to use our talents to our advantage. We let James Taylor indoctrinate us into the world with his melancholy lyrics addressing the suicide of the woman he loved. We were afraid of the world and what it expected of us.
My brother and his friends seem to believe the world owes them a lot of money. They majored in useful fields, such as environmental engineering, or pre-med or pre-law, and are going on to graduate school to become the ruling professional class.
My second to oldest sister had high ideals of social justice. She and her friends felt a need for a total overhaul of our social order; how could it be respected when so many were hungry, unemployed and discriminated against? My brother's generation seems to lack that social sense, caring less about changing the world and more about using it to their advantage. In some ways, this is healthy. One of my friends felt that if we had my brother's attitude, we would not be afraid of going after what we want. Early on in college, my brother had devised a study system that guaranteed him solid Bs in all subjects. He studied a steady two to three hours a night, and three weeks before exams began his intensive schedule of six hours a night. His successes were not magical; he worked hard and consistently.
As I said at the outset, I would not want my brother or his friends to rule the world. Yet they seem the first generation within the generation of my family willing to tackle such a formidable task. They bear no resentment that I can see, nor distaste for the present social order. They seem confident, well-groomed, hold themselves in highest esteem. They are achievement-oriented; their exuberance for their futures is irritating and touching at the same time. Why shouldn't they be full of themselves and why shouldn't they expect the best of futures?
Yet there is something ominous about their enthusiasm. Each of us in my family responded in a different way to troubled times. Somehow my brother's grouq seems isolated, out of touch with the history of the last 10 years, as if they cannot bear to contemplate why my sisters, myself and our peers had such troubles with our visions of our futures.
Irwin in "Broom Hilda" sits sobbing in front of the TV set thinking what a mess of the world the grown-ups have made for the children. One of the speakers at my brother's graduation said that when he graduated, the speaker had offended parents by saying, "Don't expect to change the world for the better, we've achieved very little in that direction in the past...expect only to develop new ways to manage the problems confronting you." The speaker at my brother's graduation indicated that he, too, wanted to convey that message.
Graduation from college traditionally has symbolized the entrance of a new generation into the adult world. Parents want to say to their children, this world is yours, filled with possibilities; as you enter we begin to train you to take over the responsibilities we have assumed in our lifetimes.Somehow my brother's group seems shell-shocked. There have been many casualties in the years 1969-1979. Children coming of age at this time have been confused by the world that confronts them. My brother and his friends have a right to a bright future as we all do; I only hope they do not sweep all of the last 10 years under the rug in order to achieve it.