We boomers are in the long shadow time of life.
Yesterday evening as I sat down to hem a new pair of slacks, it occurred to me that there are probably many women younger than I who don’t know how to do this. So when I use sewing symbolism to discuss a principle of feminine leadership, whom am I addressing?
It must be the women of the baby boom generation. That covers about 38 million women born between 1946 and 1964. Solidly grounded though we may have been in domestic skills, we are also associated with the counterculture, the civil rights movement, and the feminism of the 1970s. As we moved toward the 1980s and as a result of things like the Cold War, inflation, and gas shortages, the boomers turned less optimistic and more conservative. That trend continues. About 60 percent of all boomers voted Republican in the last election.
Political views may vary, but we all now share a certain quality of experience. My sister Kate has an expression for the approach of sundown. She calls it “the long shadow” time of day. We boomers are in the long shadow time of life. The gift is one of perspective. The youngest of us will soon be 60, and during our lifetime, we have seen personalities, circumstances, and events that have played a major role in creating our current reality. Each is like a tree at sundown that casts a long and growing shadow as the sun sets.
And perspective is quite an asset. Experience teaches you a lot about consequences and probabilities. If you force people, as the civil rights movement in the South did, to “do the right thing,” do they rise to the occasion? Not exactly. In fact, they may become more racist. Force may triumph, but it doesn’t really work. The many facets of force that we are dealing with in our culture and worldwide only serve to polarize.
Accomplishing things through force is essentially a masculine way, an orientation endowed by muscle and bulk. There I go generalizing. Nevertheless, I stand by the statement that you learn other, and often more creative, ways of getting things done if you lack muscle and bulk. The brain has to compensate.
And the need to get some new things done is at the bottom of the proposal to elevate feminine influence. To summarize my earlier blogs on proposed principles of feminine leadership, the objectives are to
1) take better care of “home” in all its forms, from domestic to earthly;
2) create balance wherever it is absent;
3) assume equal responsibility for the writing of the remaining story of humanity; and
4) mend relationships worldwide.
This is a tall order, and all women need to participate in filling it. However, in taking the lead and in addition to the long-shadow perspective, women of the baby boom have another asset. It is, very simply, wisdom.
Several years ago, two psychiatrists specializing in geriatrics (Dilip Jeste and Thomas Meeks) at the University of California, San Diego, endeavored to locate the “wisdom centers” in the human brain. Working with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), they located which neurotransmitters lit up when an individual behaved wisely. Much to my amusement, in the narrative of the results published in Scientific American in 2009, they referred to the four parts of the brain that lit up in terms of influence by father, mother, uncle, and friend as follows:
“The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is like a proverbial father: a disciplinarian, cold, calculating, rational. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is probably like mother: kind, nice, helpful, sociable, emotional. The anterior cingulated is the proverbial uncle who when you have a fight between father and mother, you go to your uncle. The limbic striatum is a friend, a reward system.”
You see? Even scientists generalize.
But before they actually performed the research, the gentlemen pored through medical literature that focused on the nature of wisdom. Based on what they found, they concluded that wisdom is made up of the behaviors that “reflect the good of the group, pragmatism, emotional balance, self-understanding, tolerance and the ability to deal with ambiguity.”
I ask you now, if you had to choose between male and female as most representative of those qualities, which would you say? Go ahead. Generalize.