The media are full of coverage of the aftermath of the death of bin Laden. While there are plenty of individual differences, the public’s reaction to this news does seem to have an age-related dimension. Young people seem more jubilant, celebratory and even visceral in their response, especially when compared to the reaction of older people. Part of this is no doubt due to youth’s native excitability, but I think there something else that is also at play here.
For many young people, this is the first time they have fully experienced the cathartic release that comes with the triumph of good over evil. Their lusty cries of victory carry an implicit assumption that this will be the last time such a struggle must be waged. Older people have seen villains rise and fall many times before. OBL is not the first nor will he be the last. This narrative will continue to play out in an endless loop. While the death of OBL clearly does change some things, older people are especially likely to understand that it does not and can not change everything.
The clear generational difference in the response to OBL’s death does not come with any definite moral lesson. Instead, this moment forms something of a generational mirror. The death of OBL offers people of all ages a chance to examine their own ideas about life, and death, good and evil, struggle and victory.
The first taste of victory naturally incites passion among the young. The response of older people has, generally, offered little jingoism and an abundance of caution.
Even so, the great wheel of history will turn and, in time, OBL will be forgotten. Until then, the consolations of family, faith, belonging (and an acceptance of the fact that no victory, no matter how great, is ever permanent) will enable elders to honor both the unreserved jubilation of the young and the measured caution of the old.