© 2024 WSHU
NPR News & Classical Music
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations
89.9 FM is currently running on reduced power. 89.9 HD1 and HD2 are off the air. While we work to fix the issue, we recommend downloading the WSHU app.

Generation A


There has been a lot of loose talk recently on the subject of age, and what people of different ages may be capable of. Most of those doing the talking have been mere children who can scarcely tie their own shoelaces and have no memory of a world before Instagram. They can hardly be blamed for this, but they can be blamed for the thoughtless assumption that younger is always better.

I grew up believing in the lifespan of three score years and ten mentioned in Psalms and repeated by Shakespeare. It seemed like a kind of par for the course, and I was surprised when that birthday came and went without so much as a twinge of arthritis. Now I can scarcely see three score and ten in the rearview mirror. So where do I fit into the generational scheme of things?

My generation doesn’t even have a name. We are constantly reminded of the remarkable qualities of the Boomers, the Millennials, Generation X, and now Generation Z. It’s time to go back to the beginning of the alphabet and reconsider Generation A, my generation, born just before WWII and now well into our 80s and 90s. What does Generation A know that a leader ought to know?

Well, we know from experience that history is mostly repetition, that all ideologies are catastrophic, that strong leaders are a menace, and that our big social and practical problems will take more than one lifetime to solve. Politicians who never raise their eyes from the four-year fundraising and election cycle will never accomplish anything. Generation A has a longer perspective. We have watched a thousand short-term solutions come and go and listened to tens of millions of empty promises. We have passed beyond cynicism into what might almost be called wisdom.

In ancient warrior societies, the leader was expected to be young and strong enough to personally lead his people into battle (think of Henri V at the battle of Agincourt). This is something that rarely happens nowadays, although it would be amusing to watch. In more settled times, it became the tradition for the oldest men to rule by default because of their family connections, their accumulated wisdom, or just because they knew more of the secrets of the tribe than anybody else.

So, what do we want as a leader: a warrior or a wise old elder of the tribe? Obviously, the latter, but he or she must be old enough. Young men don’t seem to be interested, so the search for a leader leads straight back to generation A — experienced, balanced, calm, with about as much perspective as any mortal man or woman is ever likely to get and immune to the silly ideologies and false certainties invented by previous generations.

My generation can’t be accused of being woke because we prefer to be asleep. We are unlikely to do anything rash or anything at all. We won’t listen to bad advice because most of us are deaf. And our terms of office are likely to be short — we’ll be gone before you know it, and an octogenarian vice president will step in.

Those two youngsters who are so passionately competing for four paltry years in power are obviously not mature enough and should stand aside for the older generation.

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.