Generational Gaps

By Allison Myers

Who are Millennials?

Well, according to the interwebs, we’re the folks born between 1982(ish) and 2004(ish). (I’ve found many different timelines from many sources that varied a few years both ways.) But to be clear: We’re the ones with our selfies and our entitlement and our Snapchats and our short attention spans and our narcissism. The ones raised by iPads and Kim Kardashian. That’s us. *grins and waves*

A quick Google search on millennial stereotypes turns up plenty of descriptors like “entitled,” “lazy,” “narcissistic,” and “addicted to social media” while a search on Generation X stereotype turns up descriptors like “self-reliant” and “independent.” They’re also sometimes negatively categorized as “cynical” and “skeptical.” But as I stated earlier, no one can really know for sure where one generation ends and the other begins. Seriously, Google it and see the inconsistency for yourself. Some sites had the Millennial generation starting in 1975 and some had it ending as early as 1995.

For me, this begs the question, if someone born in, say, 1975 grows up to be a “lazy” person, does that make them a Millennial? And if they grow up to become “self-reliant” and “independent,” does that make them a Gen X-er? If they’re “independent,” does that make them a Gen X-er and if they’re “entitled” does that make them a Millennial? Oh gosh, but what if they’re narcissistic ­and self-reliant? Where do they fit? And what about these people from Generation X (and the Baby Boomers!) that are addicted to social media? They’re throwing the whole system off with their “Words with Friends” and their Facebook comments. And, now that I think of it, I know some Millennials that are entrepreneurs. They’re successful businesspeople. If I didn’t know they were Millennials, I’d probably categorize them as “independent” or even “self-reliant.” Now we’re all out of whack and people are venturing outside their labels and nothing makes sense anymore. Do you see the issue? It’s exhausting to think about it. I mean, it actually kind of hurts my entitled brain.

I guess my real question is this: Why are we even having this conversation? Why do we feel the need to label entire groups of people based on their birth years? Why is it important to make sure we all fit within the tidy boundaries of these labels? Is it really a good idea to speak in absolutes about entire demographics, especially Millennials (who make up 20% of the entire population of the US?) I’ve met entitled 60-year-olds, and I’ve met hardworking, self-reliant 17-year-olds. I’ve met narcissistic 40-year-olds, and independent 23-year-olds. I don’t think much good can come from lazily summarizing humans based on the years they were born.

I often wonder if social media had been around 20 years ago, if we’d see videos circulating the internet of Baby Boomers making fun of Generation X or if Gen X-ers would post apology videos on Facebook on behalf of their generation. Or maybe if they’d been around 60 years ago, maybe one of the Baby Boomers’ greatest downfalls would be that they post too many selfies, and not that black students couldn’t go to school with white students. If Twitter would’ve existed 100 years ago, we might be looking back rebuking them for their use of hashtags instead of their lack of women’s rights. Hard to tell, but something I think about sometimes. It’s always so fascinating to me to see how social media are utilized by different people.

Romans 3:23 says that, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all suck, ok?

Social media often seem like they divide us and emphasize generational gaps like nothing else, but I guess my optimistic Millennial brain likes to see the potential and the positive impact that social media have made. This is the most connected generation in history, but I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I could go on for days about how technology and social media have increased global awareness, provided avenues for education, and even helped to bridge gaps between generations who seem to have nothing in common, but I think that’s for another post.

I think it’s kind of unwritten rule that every generation has to point out the shortcomings of their successors. Since the dawn of time, history has echoed with muttered, “Those darn kids…” and “Agh, kids these days…” while kids and teens have always questioned the relevance of their parents and all the generations before them.

“The total neglect of this art [speaking] has been productive of the worst consequences…in the conduct of all affairs ecclesiastical and civil, in church, in parliament, courts of justice…the wretched state of elocution is apparent to persons of any discernment and taste… if something is not done to stop this growing evil …English is likely to become a mere jargon, which every one may pronounce as he pleases.” – Thomas Sheridan in A General Dictionary of the English Language (1780).

An 1859 edition of Scientific American warned against the dangers of the newest wicked game that all the kids were playing – chess.

Robert Louis Stevenson (the man who wrote Treasure Island) also penned an essay in 1894 called “The Philosophy of Umbrellas” where he claimed to be able to gauge one’s character by what they chose to shield themselves from the rain with. For the record, those (younger folk) who used “inappropriate umbrellas” went about the streets “with a lie in their right hand.”

Stanley Hall, a psychologist and educator, wrote that, “Never has youth been exposed to such dangers of both perversion and arrest as in our own land and day. Increasing urban life with its temptations, prematurities, sedentary occupations, and passive stimuli just when an active life is most needed, early emancipation and a lessening sense for both duty and discipline, the haste to know and do all befitting man’s estate before its time, the mad rush for sudden wealth and the reckless fashions set by its gilded youth–all these lack some of the regulatives they still have in older lands with more conservative conditions.” He said this in 1904.

Literally every generation cast judgment on their successors for one thing or another – be it their choice in party games, or their choice in umbrella. And I’d be interested to get Thomas Sheridan’s thoughts on words like “bae,” “selfie,” and “adulting.”

I know we only talk about the six living generations or whatever, but I’d love to know the stereotypes of King David’s generation, and the generations of George Washington and Pocahontas and Christopher Columbus. I wonder if Benjamin Franklin and his peers were ever accused of being too enabled or if the people who raised Moses worried that he’d grow up to be a softie if they gave him a participation trophy even though he probably wasn’t the best player on his soccer team. What were the concerns of Generation A? Were they scared their kids would be “job-hoppers?” Were Shakespeare’s elders concerned that he may want to rent an apartment instead of buy a house or that he’d want to work from a café instead of an office? Do you think Socrates’ generation was considered doomed if they preferred more vacation time over a salary raise?

Jokes, obvi.

But one thing every generation has in common is that they’ve been made up of humans. Every generation experienced a whole messy, beautiful array of humanity. Some generations were raised in wartimes and some in times of peace. Some in a recession and some in times of economic prosperity. Each one had their own slogans and movements and things they’re remembered for. Every generation was made up of geniuses and dimwits, hard workers and slackers. There’ve always been heroes and villains, and there’s always been a template, a standard that parents hoped their kids would fit into.

Every generation did some things that bettered the world and every generation did some things that we look back and shake our heads at. I mean, #tbt to Adam and Eve, the original screwer-uppers of everything. Not even one generation got it completely right. Romans 3:23 says that, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We all suck, ok?

In God’s eyes, there’s no distinction between the generations. We’re all wildly human. We’re as human as Mother Teresa and MLK and the folks who put Jesus on the cross. Sometimes it seems like we have nothing in common with older generations, but history confirms that there really is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes 1:9.) We’re all limping to the finish line. We’re all broken. We all suffer. We all hope. We all love. We all want things. We all do things that better humanity and things that future generations will look back and shake their heads at. But most importantly: We’re all immeasurably loved. We’re all within the reach of God’s grasp. We all have an equal shot at grace – Baby Boomers, Gen X-ers, and yes, even Millennials.

 

 

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