As all of you know I am an unabashed fan of E.B. White although I am fairly certain that "Charlotte's Web" and "Stuart Little" were read to me, not by me. I am at present reading "The Letters of E.B. White" which is an amazing collection laid out chronologically beginning with a letter to his brother, Stan, when E.B. was only nine. I feel as if I am walking alongside a man who has been able to articulate with such depth, emotion and texture, the way I see things. It is imperative, however, that to understand these letters, you must read "One man's Meat" and his "Collection of Essays" before diving into his personal thoughts. I am sorry, there are no short cuts in this regard as you will only be left confused and wondering what all the hubbub was about.
In a letter dated 20 December 1938, a thank you note to a friend, White, as usual, weaves in observations from life out in Brooklin, Maine. There is the usual mention of the the current struggles with the hens or the dog or the weather or a looming deadline or the upcoming PTA meeting. He began to lament over the view of the current generation of Mainers in which I think he unknowingly outlined the trouble with every "next generation". Here now, in 2012 we look on and back at most recently the "Gen X, Y & Z" cultures or lack thereof, and gave them these very generic titles that in and of themselves seem to be not so veiled insults about a group of listless wandering 20 somethings who would rather go rock climbing than get a job and be productive. With each new generation looking for direction, they have only one way to look for guidance, and that is to the generation that came before. And it is in that view wherein the root of what we may see to be the problem lies.
White put it like this (and where he references Maine, think of our country as a whole):
"The trouble with Maine is that is has too distinguished of a past. Every day the Bangor Daily News runs a long feature piece on Maine lore or history, usually and octogenarian who still thinks of himself as returning from the China Seas with a sandalwood box for his bride - or a bride for his sandalwood box. Or he is in a clipper ship in a gale off the Horn. I think this kind of reading makes the present generation restless and unhappy, and they are always looking for something bold to do."
He has nailed it with the last sentence "..looking for something bold to do." Today we read about the challenge to go the moon, the victory over other empires, the building of massive financial might and it's subsequent collapse under it's own weight and men like Steve Jobs, who in his own rite is our modern day Sir Edmund Hillary, and I think deserves his own honorary title of Founder in the Explorers Club. X, Y & Z read about, hear about and see nothing but these huge accomplishments (or disasters as the case may be) and I suspect that it all seems too much, so they go climb a mountain. Doing what is probably most valuable to the growing intellect that is not taught in any classroom - the challenge of self.
Now, here is the catch or the rub depending on what happens on that mountain top. Once the personal challenge has been met in the thin and clear air, the next big success or disaster is conceived of to be executed once they have descended from the hilltop. With a clear head, belly full of passion, a JD and MBA they exchange the Patagonia fleece for a suit and try to outdo the previous generation, and they always do. The successes greater than any imaginable and disasters that bring us all to our knees.
We need to be careful how we label this next generation and the implied insult of laziness and we need to be ever more careful about the challenge to boldness we issue to them, for after all, do we really want them to be more bold than those that came before?
Me? Well today I am pondering my ghost of a best friend and wanting to go climb a mountain, all the while being stared down upon by large portraits of my Great Grandfather and Grandfather issuing their challenge to me through old grey suits and deadly serious expressions, but tonight is a business dinner at my house and I can already hear Monday morning's opening bell in the distance.