Daniel Collins once spent his free afternoons helping troubled Toronto youngsters. In Edmonton, Shirley Hagen donated to the Greenpeace animal-rights campaign and turned down a fur coat from her husband. In Dartmouth, N.S., Donna Turner dreamt of becoming a happy wife and mother. But that was then—the 1960s and the early 1970s. Now, like the majority of Canadians, all three share a sense that their idealism has dwindled in a world that has grown less caring, more competitive and alarmingly hostile. Said Collins, 41, a school counsellor and father: “I withdrew. I am running in circles with my own job and family now.” Reflected Turner, who is raising her son alone: “I have come to realize that you have only yourself to depend on. Love is very fickle.” Hagen, 37, who is expecting her second child and whose work is helping to rehabilitate the handicapped, says that she still cares strongly about her neighbors but acknowledges that now she would welcome a real mink coat instead of the fake fur she wears. As the 1988 Maclean ’s/ Decima poll indicates, the baby boom generation—the largest segment of Canadian society—is rapidly abandoning its former idealism.
In fact, members of that group, born during the 20 years following the Second World War, have demonstrated a more dramatic shift in their beliefs than any other group during three years of polling. The people who protested against the Vietnam War are now more likely to rally against group homes in their neighborhood. In part, the postwar generation has simply grown up. The parents of young families are naturally preoccupied with their children.
And many find that the pressures of parenthood are compounded by the stress of trying to maintain a two-career family. Now, when baby boomers speak out, they are concerned about close-to-home issues: neighborhood safety, clean air and water, day care and equality in the workplace.
“You can get the idea that it is idealism,” noted Decima’s Bruce Anderson, “but below the surface it’s me-oriented.”
Still, like the baby boomers, many Canadians believe that their cities have become less safe, their fellow citizens less tolerant and their environment more degraded in the past decade. And those feelings have contributed to an erosion of idealism that cuts across divisions of age, income and region. Nationally, those who reported that they had become less idealistic during 1988 outnumbered those saying they had become more so by a striking margin of 6 to 1. At the same time, the number of Canadians who said that they would consider confronting the country’s problems by running for political office remained unchanged at 15 per cent.
More than three-quarters of the poll respondents, however, reported that family rather than job or religion was the most important element in their lives. The baby boomers were the most emphatic about the family’s preeminence: more than 90 per cent of couples with children put family first. The figure was only slightly lower—82 per cent—among childless couples of that generation. But it was in the same group that Maclean’s/Decima researchers uncovered the deepest erosion of idealism. In a view that was clearly widespread, school counsellor Collins noted, “I am still the person that I was, but I don’t see the world through such rose-colored glasses anymore.”
Observers of social patterns say that the link between parenthood and a hardening of outlook among the baby boom generation is significant. “It is not that people do not have concerns about Third World poverty and so on,” said Bruce O’Hara, a sociologist with Work Well, a research centre in Victoria. “But they are overloaded with immediate concerns.” O’Hara noted that two-career couples face combined work schedules of at least 60 hours a week. As a result, he said, “the increased work load per family has left less time for idealistic pursuits. A lot of the fullness of life has been gutted.”
Clearly, many poll respondents of all ages share the perception that the country has become more hardhearted and less virtuous. Onethird reported that most people demonstrate less care for one another than they did 10 years ago. On racism, 38 per cent said that it has increased and only 23 per cent observed an improvement during the past decade. As well, 63 per cent reported that they believed walking city streets at night is more dangerous, and 60 per cent felt that there was growing violence against women.
In addition, 40 per cent of Canadians said that individual morality has declined—outnumbering 2 to 1 those who said it has increased during the past 10 years. Halifax pathologist Vernon Bowes, 47, was in the minority of poll respondents. He observed: “Most Canadians are always ready to hand back that extra quarter if the clerk has overpaid them. I think there is a reasonably high moral standard.”
But most of those polled were pessimistic about the state of compassion in the country, holding out little hope for a revival of idealism. “People have become more selfish because they have to be,” declared respondent Rosemary Redshaw,
33, a Burlington, Ont., homemaker and part-time chaplain. “As the family degenerates, people learn to fend for themselves and care for themselves.
There is a sense of loss, a lot of movement and no bonding.” Added Dartmouth’s Turner, who supports her seven-year-old son by working as an accounting assistant at a plastics manufacturer: “I wanted just to be a homemaker, but it didn’t work out. I’m separated and if I want something I have to get it myself.” Others among those polled observed that the increasingly competitive economy has further rewarded the selfish over the compassionate. Montreal’s Barbara Grelinsky, a 40-yearold former accountant, recalled the ethics of her former business associates: “It is dog-eatdog. If you care about somebody, then how can you step on them?” Her own values, she said,
have changed dramatically. Grelinsky, who now works as an aide to elderly sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease, added: “Before, all I cared about was getting ahead in the business world. Now, I feel like I am doing something worthwhile.”
There may even be a link between the climate of selfishness and the rhetoric of free trade. Observed Robert Glossop, a research co-ordinator with the Ottawa-based Vanier Institute of the Family: “The more we talk about an increasingly competitive environment, both internationally and domestically, the less compassionate one becomes.” According to Glossop, a growing number of Canadians are seeking refuge from the hostile world they see around them in the “cocoon” of friends and family. He added: “I see people becoming protective. The example of not wanting the halfway house in the neighborhood is a good one.”
The perception that Canadian cities are less safe and pleasant than they once were has added fuel to several current trends in politics. Both Glossop and O’Hara predicted that such family-oriented issues as child care and flexible work schedules will be featured on the political agenda in the next decade as the baby boom generation speaks out.
But there is little evidence that individual Canadians are shaking off a general lack of interest—noted in previous Maclean’s/Decima polls—in entering politics. A majority of 85 per cent—unchanged from last year’s poll—ruled out running for public office. Women and residents of Quebec were the least likely to enter political life. The most likely candidate, according to poll responses: an English-speaking man in the upperincome bracket.
There are exceptions. Edmonton’s Hagen, for one, expressed greater willingness to participate in politics than is common to people who live in the Prairie provinces. Although Hagen acknowledges having shed some of her idealism—in the matter of wearing furs, for one—she adds that on more important issues, “If my neighbor needed something, I’d be the first one there.” Observed Hagen, who has served on several local boards, including the parents’ committee of her daughter’s kindergarten: “I believe that I can change things.” Still, she said that she would more likely run for a municipal position than provincial or federal offices.
The poll indicates that more Canadians are turning to religion in their search for solutions. Forty per cent said that religion had become more important in their lives, outnumbering by se ^n percentage points those who reported that their faith was declining in importance. Urban career men dominated those who said that religion is becoming less important, while those most likely to be tuming to religion were rural women who have stayed at home to raise children. Poll respondent Sunday Thompson, 42, a member of the Christian Heritage Party who lives in Watford, 60 km west of London, Ont., reflected a widely held view when she said that religion gave her stability. Said Thompson: “We have to have a moral standard for our family. There is a need to go to the Lord in prayer.”
At the same time, more than 53 per cent of Canadians said that they believed general faith in organized religion and religious leaders had declined. In a year when Canada’s United Church was split over homosexuality, American evangelists confronted the weaknesses of their leaders and there was heated discussion over who could enter the Jewish faith, it may not be unusual that many Canadians would turn to a more private expression of religion. Faith, like charity, seems to begin at home. In 1988, both may also end there.
FAMILY COMES FIRST
THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN UFE: 1986 1988 Religion Family Career/Work
CHRIS WOOD with SHARON DOYLE DRIEDGER, CLAIRE FRASER and HEATHER STARKE in Toronto
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