Last Sunday I was at a celebration to mark the 80th birthdays of a bunch of us from the same school and Leaving Certificate year (1958). A lively, vigorous group with a lot to talk about, comparing notes about our active lives and having – as usual – loads of loud fun.
And now, only a few days later, in a Herald article about Millennials, I see that we are considered to be the “Silent Generation”.
I’ve wondered, from time to time, what was the name for our demographic, born between 1926 and 1945, but could never have imagined it would be such a derogatory term.
Consider this: we include the likes of 80-year-old ABC chairperson Ita Buttrose, the 95-year-old Bob Rodgers, who’s recently decided to return to his radio-announcing career, and Anthony Fauci, only just about to retire as America’s sane voice of COVID.
Not to mention so many of us who are continuing to do what we variously enjoy, such as keeping on with our jobs in some form, volunteering, grandparenting, travelling, trying new activities, learning new skills, keeping fit, joining groups (two words: Men’s Sheds), campaigning, filling seats in cinemas, theatres and concerts, boosting the economy in so many ways.
And yes, some of us do become progressively frailer, and might need help, but overall, we’re among the fortunate waves of people living lives that are both longer and healthier. One of my heroes, Dexter Kruger of Queensland, went on enjoying life until his recent death at 111. Come to think of it, technically he was from the generation before, with the far grander label: The Greatest Generation.
I know this because I’ve just consulted Wikipedia to find out where on earth the Silent Generation label came from. And it’s truly interesting, with more than one possible explanation.
In the United States, a 1951 article in Time magazine used that term as a description of a generation that was less vocal than its predecessor, saying: “It does not issue manifestoes, make speeches or carry posters.” A later explanation linked it to those who were young adults during the McCarthy era, when many felt it was unwise to speak out. In Britain, on the other hand, it has been at times described as a reference to strict childhood discipline which taught children to be “seen but not heard”.
Now, in 2022, let’s throw off all those outdated cultural shibboleths and work on a more accurate label for this generation that is vital in so many ways. How about, simply, Generation V? That is, V for vital.
Dr Anne Ring is a health sociologist and freelance writer. Her new book, Engaging with Ageing: What matters as we grow older, will be released in late September.