“If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak.” – Thoreau
In the 70s, I had a poster on my wall with this quotation from Thoreau’s Walden, published in 1854. This sort of poster was popular in our post-60s ‘counter-culture revolution’ phase. I treasured it.
There had been so much pressure to conform. So ideas like those in Thoreau’s quotation seemed like a gentle, nourishing contrast – almost a rebuke of the previously critical-judgmental, rather authoritarian perspective. That had been severe enough in the fifties and sixties that for awhile, some in the counter-culture over-reacted at the extreme end of the spectrum: public nudity, ‘free love’, doing whatever felt good including getting high out in the streets of the urban western world, or on ‘hippie farms’ or ‘co-ops’ which sprouted like weeds for awhile. It was a decade of play for some, primarily ‘boomers’. But also a time to experiment with change. Many people spent time contemplating and questioning everything.
These were ‘wild’ times, which could mean anything from strolling all night through downtown Montreal – stoned on LSD; or a young cousin of mine during a visit appearing in my room in the middle of the night, dressed only in a haze of marijuana.
Such times never last. They experimented with love, lifestyles, ideas and countless dreams of change. Most eventually matured and moved on. I know of one communal country property still going after 40 years – though the majority (grandparents today) don’t live there full-time.
Most ‘hippies’ sobered up and got serious and gradually, society did change some: the civil rights movement, feminism, greater equality of opportunity, greater openness. Even the corporate world was somewhat experimental for awhile, with more focus on creativity, less pressure to conform, more generous benefits, women moving up the ladder. Seeds of hope were planted and the knowledge that we can influence change.
And now those greying boomers are beginning to enter ‘retirement’ – with better health, education, and insight than previous generations. They will be looking for meaningful activities more than any previous generation in history – and many will want to make a difference in the world during the last decades of their lives. After all this time, they will still be hearing the music of a different drummer – or maybe that of John Lennon, in “Imagine”:
“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”. They are not afraid to dream, and they know they are not alone.