(Who are the Millennials? Why do techy people like nature? How did fighting with our parents’ generation make us better?)
“They may not want a traditional family,” my son-in-law, Simon, told me explaining the difference between his generation and the Millennials, the 20 and 30-year-olds he works with as an engineer. We were watching Simon’s children, my grandchildren, building a science project at the kitchen table.
“Yeah,” I said, “They’re just a bunch of slackers.” I was being flippant, but Simon wanted to make a point.
“What? No, no, that’s not what I mean. Millennials work hard too. They just have different ideas.”
I’ve been largely oblivious to the new generations coming up, the “Z’s” and the “X’ers.” These alphabet labels make the next generation sound like they just stepped out of an elementary classroom instead of into adulthood. I’d trade being called Baby Boomer for Generation W (standing for “wise,” of course). Baby Boomer sounds like the nickname for an overweight football player. Or Baby Boomer is a big puppy that drools a lot.
Every 20 years or so we have a new crop of young people entering the work force and needing a label. All these generational lines have blurred for me. Maybe because I’m retired now. There’s no need to compare salaries and work styles. I don’t fear becoming irrelevant at the office.
But my ignorance doesn’t change the fact that with each generation there are new ways of being and doing that challenge past generations. Millennial author, Noah Strycker, echoed my son-in-law’s comment. He said 30-somethings were less family-oriented and more narcissistic. But they love nature and the outdoors, ironically, because they are so wired-in and techy. Millennials know how to app information about any animal, rafting trip, or hiking trail within minutes, if not seconds.
Some age groups clash more than others though, and not just related to the work place. I drove my mother back from her cardiologist appointment yesterday and she casually commented that her granddaughter, my niece, was living with her boyfriend.
“Mom, I can’t believe you said that. Would you listen to yourself? Forty years ago you had a near melt-down when I suggested living with my boyfriend.”
“It’s still wrong! The institution of marriage is being trampled on. This younger generation just doesn’t seem to care . . .”
My parents are good people but as a baby boomer, I experienced far more generational conflict between them and myself, than I do between me and my own children. I remember my dad shaking his fist at the evening news on TV as he watched footage of long-haired hippies living in communes and trespassing on private land. Of course, our generation responded in kind. We sang songs with lyrics that said: “What gives you the right to put up a sign to keep me out—and keep Mother Nature in?” Our generational divide was popularized back then as a generation “gap.”
Though I get along with my own children better than my parents did with me, I may be taking credit where none is deserved. Sociologists tell us that my parent’s generation, the generation born at the front of the Great Depression, experienced not only a major economic crisis, but also a world war. Their age group is known as the Silent Generation for good reason. They like peace and are risk-adverse. They don’t like rocking the boat. Understandably then, they had trouble with the loud protests and counter culture movements we baby boomers engaged in.
The Silent Generation or the Greatest Generation if you prefer, are slowly leaving us.
It’s exciting to read about Gen-X’ers like Elon Musk, the Tesla engineer, or Greta Thunberg, a Generation Z’er whose passion for climate politics is igniting change. But as we embrace these younger people and their achievements, we cannot forget the smart, brave generation that came before us. We fought with them, yes, but it’s often the clash of ideas, from one generation to the next, that define us. That struggle, can and does, propels us forward.
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