When I was in Venezuela, more than 20 years ago, I had dinner with the imposing Arch Bishop of Caracas. In the course of a delightful evening, this priestly man shared the regret of his life:
“My greatest regret is that I never got to know my parents—they were killed in the Spanish Civil War.”
My response was deliberate, though intuitive:
“How fortunate you are father! You may embrace every older person you meet as if he or she were your parents.”
The bishop was astounded, but thoughtful before he answered:
“You have just lifted my life’s burden from my shoulders. I am so grateful to you for I am truly born again into the hands of the many parents that God has given me.”
Over the years, I heard from the Good Bishop and he was “spiritually full again.” So it is for America if we wish to be “spiritually full again!”
One of the principles of progress is this: can assets become our deficits? The greatest asset of “The Greatest Generation” was their confidence in addressing the goals and problems of American Civilization. The greatest deficit of “The Greatest Generation” was their confidence in addressing the goals and problems of American Civilization.
The G.I.s coming back from victories over the greatest military powers in history were brimming over with confidence. However, when they got themselves educated with business and other degrees, they required a competent generation to implement their grand ideas: executives to generate the architecture, managers to design the systems, supervisors to define the objectives, production and delivery personnel to perform the tasks and deliver the products. These people constituted “The Competent Generation.” They were only to be labeled “The Silent Generation” because they lived in the shadow of “The Greatest” and were passed over politically.
When George H. W. Bush designated the junior senator, Dan Quayle, his running mate for president. he broke the model for all advanced civilization: where the leadership of one generation passed on the mantle to the leaders of the next generation, thus enabling future progress to be built upon past progress.
As a consequence, “The Competent Generation” is the first generation in American history so far not to have a president drawn from its ranks. Moreover, the more fatal consequence for America was passing on the leadership role to the ill-prepared “Boomers:” Clinton and Bush simply did not have the maturity to be fathers of The Great American Family. We see the consequences now!
The greatest implication for American Civilization is this: while breaking the moral succession of leadership, the “G.I.s” fatally disrupted the relations between and among all generations:
- The “G.I.s” are now lost to us as a source of leadership, their only legacy being their anointment of their “Boomer” children as “apparent leaders.”
- The fading “Competents” are increasingly dismissed as sources of authority, political and moral.
- The inflated “Boomers” who never truly lead nor adopt others have not paid the price for moral authority.
- The bi-polar “X’ers” have been abandoned to their own false sense of security through specialized competitiveness.
- The orphaned “Y’s” and “Z’s” are left to their own schizoid cycles.
The only real potential source of effect is dormant. Can “The Silent Generation” awaken from its slumber and reassert its moral authority along with its competence? Can “The Silent Ones” redirect organizations such as AARP to missions beyond self-centered “cashing-in” for a lifetime of comfort?
If not, then it is too late for America! For “The Boomers”—in their great numbers—are aversively conditioned to adopting anyone else, even their own children!
In this context, the most-forgotten of all Americans is “The Thinking American.” As these different generational cultures establish their mores, they marginalize the thinkers. Indeed, the “Boomers” have institutionalized the process: in consensus-building, they eliminate the “best” as well as the worst. For example, they build a consensus on “Best Practices” while eliminating those who generated the “Best Ideas” as well as those who cannot perform the practices.
And yet history is, in large part, a function of the generative thinking of individuals. The heart of The American Experience is the very freedom that it allows, supports, endorses, and practices that transforms “The Big Ideas” into “Huge Realities.” That is the story of America: “Big Ideas” from the little people!
In truth, we are “All Forgotten Americans.” What made us “Functional Americans” was Cultural Relating when we each embraced the others across cultures and classes. To remove ourselves from this “Boiling Cauldron of Isolation,” we must abandon our notion of “the linear succession of leadership.” Instead, we must adopt an interactive model where all generations relate interdependently to all other generations (see Figure 8-1). It is this interactive model that culminates the power of all processing: the continuous interdependent processing of unequal partners. It is this interactive model that defines the pre-potent processing potential of “The Thinking American.”
Figure 8-1. The Relating Future of American Civilization