I perceive the idea of work undergoing a fundamental change in my generation. My friend Robin’s response to my last blog referencing Office Space caused me to laugh out loud. I was telling my sister, who has yet to see it, that the movie sums up the sentiments of our generation about work: we’re pawns, we’re used, and we’re completely disposable. (P.S. Mom, don’t see it. The language is foul. But to all others, I must admit, it was so worth it! Laughing numbs the pain of the truth.) All the pent up feelings of anger and hatred toward our uncaring employers are disgorged in laughter when that annoying boss comes up with the perennial coffee cup slipping in the demand within the request for that stupid report; or when the members of the disposable list are humiliated by the experts brought in to dismiss them; or when the characters take baseball bats to the copier that has been the archnemesis of life.
Generations ago, people were bent on making the necessary sacrifices so their children would be better off than they were. They would work at the same job they hated for 30 years and retire at 55. They believed in sacrifice. Prided themselves on it. Suck it up and do it, even if it hurts. Quit whining. Live by the clock. Come home, eat dinner. Go to work even if you’re sick. Tough it out. Their children enjoyed the fruits of their parents’ sacrifices. They lived the high life. Wandered through the 60s and 70s bucking the establishment that created them and then establishing themselves as the establishment. This new generation spoiled their children with excessive stuff and a minimum of attention — unaware that their children were growing up in a different world than they did.
We managed the best we could. Some of us avoided the drugs pushed on our elementary busses. Less of us avoided the early promiscuity. Even less of us achieved the self-actualization at the tip of Maslow’s pyramid. Our parents knew we might take drugs, but not in fifth grade. Our parents knew we might have sex, but not in 8th grade. Our parents knew we might cheat, but not excessively. Our parents knew we might not be able to read, but not that we could graduate without that particular skill. Our parents were blissfully ignorant so we dealt with a great deal of contradictions. Our parents glorified school spirit and a sense of unity — you can still find those hold-outs in the system today, trying to regain a thing long-gone. We felt the spit balls, watched the bullying, laughed at the cheerleaders. At church, we listened to the hair-raising sermons on hell, and made out with the pastor’s kid after church in the bathroom. We might barge in on the pastor doing the same thing with someone else. We are the product of fallen good guys. We don’t believe in good guys any more. Now, in general, we cheer for losers. We identify with them.
We don’t dare to hope to give our children a better world. Now, we know that 1 in 4 boys and 1 in 3 girls will be molested by someone we know. Every morning we wake up to a mother who shot her two children in the head or another slaughter by an embittered teen. We listen to the protests in the streets and feel more and more afraid to declare our political stances for the wrath it might incur, regardless of the side. We lead a more protective stance than our parents did — like families in hiding — hoping, praying they’ll get through unscathed. My generation’s children don’t leave the house unattended. We try to occupy them in their rooms with technology so they’ll leave us alone to do all the chores that need to be done. We also sacrifice to give them all the things we got, minus the family time to go with it, because we are usually running them to their supervised activities.
I paint a bitter picture, I know. Each generation had its own peculiar struggles and I’ve gotten way off task in bringing home my point — which was originally going to be about work. Most days, I wake up to some bit of news about retirement dwindling to nothing. The retirement age has already increased 10 years. We make less, but pay more. My family has lived well below the poverty line for its entire existence. These are matters of fact.
But we must give thanks to previous generations for the ability to laugh when we’re angry. They were not so lucky. The stakes were higher and the sacrifices greater. My generation recognizes that if things get too bad, we can always go home to Mom and Dad, much as we may not like it.
We can laugh. And we can risk. We recognize that we’re going to work ’til we die. There are no ‘golden years’ in store for us. So, we figure, why not make the best of it? We shift around looking for a job that suits us for awhile. Then, we’ll make a stab at succeeding at this career over here. We’ll dabble in this idea and pursue it on the side for awhile. When we get laid off, we’ll collect unemployment and do a Napoleon Dynamite whatever we want! Gosh! It’s probably the only government money we’ll ever get in our lives.
The way we figure it, if we’re going to work ’til we die, we might as well find work we like. It’s not like sacrifice in this environment is going to make any difference. Companies we’ll slash and cut you at any whim.
These are coping skills. This wandering, hoping-something-will-turn-up, kind of thinking is a pretty endearing quality considering the hand we’ve been dealt. So, I think I’ll hide my kids, hide my wife, hide my husband, cause they’re rapin’ everyone aroun’ here. And in the meantime, I’ll share my volatile feelings on this blog from the safety of my own unidentified home.
I love all you lovable losers from my era. Best of luck in trying times. Want to be in my woof pack?