What are You Saying? Speaking with a Generation Different From Your Own
18 Sep 2019
The ongoing hullabaloo about millennials, what they do, how they think and how they live continues on. Put on your seat belt Gen Xers, Baby Boomers, Silent Generationals and GI Generation members. New grown-up generations are afoot. For at least the last 17 years, the pivotal generation known as Millennials, whose members range in age from 25-42, are beginning and completing their education, entering and changing the workforce, buying and renting property, and adulting like no one’s business.
Millennifacts: Unlike the generations before them, the millennial population is the largest American generation to date. They are also the first to experience unique trends that set them apart from those prior. For instance, Millennials are the most highly educated population and the most likely to postpone marriage, if they marry at all. Alternatively, increasing numbers of these folks choose to live together. The age of child-bearing is becoming older as it’s delayed by the pursuit of life interests such as career. Accordingly, the birthrate has decreased. Furthermore, those born after 1990’s advent of the internet and use of the home computer, are also known as digital natives, opposed to those born previously who are called digital immigrants. Therefore, they are the first generation to be innately digitally adept. (Opposed to those who are still trying to figure out how to use a VCR - whatever that is.)
Overall and from the beginning of time, generational differences have defined each group’s identity and been the cause of frustration. Currently, these differences are cited as points of friction in discussions about accrued life experience. ‘Accrued’ as in, “This is my experience and this is what I know.”. This issue often divides today’s youth and young adults from the once up-and-coming in days of yore.
Today, I had another discussion, (yes, another discussion) with a young woman who found herself stuck in a conversation with an elder relative (age 60 – well, elderly to the 28 year-old), who said, “You are too young to know about this but years ago there was a movie called “The Graduate.” This 28-year-old (who we will call Ann) was brought up in a digital world that has converted more old movies, cartoons, written works, and musical performances than Turner Broadcasting has colorized black and white films. Having seen it twice, Ann was pleased to say that she enjoyed the movie. However, her words were repeatedly thwarted by the relative’s uninterruptible discussion. At least that is the way it seemed to Ann.
The assumption directing this part of the conversation may have been “It is not possible for a 28-year-old to know these things. She wasn’t alive or if her parents saw the film, (and it was a film not a digitized cinema package) she was too young to remember their review.” No matter what or how Ann tried to convey her ability to relate to the discussion, the 60-year-old (who we will call Joan) spoke as if she was providing insight that a 28-year-old would not have and trying to insure that cinematic icons remain relevant. After all, it is the charge of the elders to pass their experience and wisdom on to those who are next at bat.
Opposed to the youth of generations prior, who while annoyed rolled their eyes in rebellion against the proverbial passing of the baton, this generation tends to find such offerings arrogant and dismissive. In addition to being the most well-educated, etc., this generation has a different view of elder wisdom. Although they are interested in learning and do want the information, they do not appreciate being told how much they don’t know, “as if I am stupid”, because often, they do. They do know. However, the older set is acting rationally and in accordance with the dictates of experience. After all, we did not know, when our parents were younger, they did not know and when our grandparents were young, they did not know, and so on. Experience clearly states that information and enlightenment is passed on through sharing, it is a well-intentioned offering.
Further guiding these responses, Pre-M Gens (any pre-millennials such as Baby Boomers and GEN Xers) who parented were directed by doctors and trending influencers (who, “back in the day”, were actually called parenting experts) to act authoritatively. In time, parenting directives shifted, promoting the benefits of reasoning with children, sensitizing them to social issues and passing on information that was once reserved for later-in-life discussions. This newer approach launched innovations such as foreign language instruction in preschools, affirmations that verbal reasoning is superior to physical reactions (like don’t slap the bully who just punched you), and technology now central to education and entertainment (thank you Winnie the Pooh for teaching three-year-olds geometry).
Think about it: In addition, Baby Boomers invented and introduced the personal computer and the internet. They were later joined by Gen Xers in further developing technologically based interactive toys, and sophisticated recreational/household items. Pre-M Gens shared their favorite music, movies, cultural stories, digitized family photos, and introduced Millennials to learning via personal technology - almost everything anchored to some type of lesson. Much to most everyone’s delight, Millennials like their music and ours, their movies and ours, and use combinations of all they know (or learn via YouTube) to bring vibrancy that which they are interested in. Telling our stories while sharing still Kodak photographs is not bad, and on the upside and for whatever it is worth, these photos do not just suddenly become deleted – ever (unless we forget where we put them). However, new generations usher in new innovations, and to a degree characteristically, they are different than those who arrived before. They may not know everything, but these young adults do know a lot. They know who the Beatles are and they may be able to recite lines from the Godfather. They can even laugh at some of our inside jokes. Inadvertently, we are not imparting wisdom, we are dismissing what they know.
For the past few years, when hearing people say, “Young man, when I was your age...” an awkwardness has hung in the air. It is beyond the typical annoyance of having some old guy speak about the days of his youth. There is a deeper rift and now you and I know why.
This explains a lot of the friction associated with well-meaning contributions and, at times, the hope to help circumvent life’s frustrations for the next person. Those of us who have more dirt under our feet and wind in our hair really do have information to share. Yes, these words of wisdom will be met with both curiosity and resistance. That is the right of passage for all generations; imparting and receiving information that may or may not be helpful. So, my dear I-know-what-a-dial-tone-is friends, the culture has truly changed, much of which is due to the communication and technology we have created and supported. Fear not, we are not being left behind. More so, we have gotten exactly what we had hoped for; progress - and progress is rarely easy.
This is not a call to shut our mouths. It is a call to recalibrate and do better. Pre-M Gens are in a position to support those who are up next by becoming more transformative and transgenerational (working across the generations). This approach is respectful of what someone may know, opposed to the close-ended transaction of providing the service of informing with a measure of accidental disregard. We should to be open to realizing that these “kids” (who are no longer kids) might know more than we think and they appreciate an informed passing of the torch. More so, we brought them here – this is a result of our efforts.
I would be remiss if I neglected to say: Gen Z (ages 7-24) is hot on the trail of this discussion. They are more sophisticated in the use of educational methods, are beginning and completing their education, are members of playground and workforce cultures, and are positioning to become successfully functioning adults. Pre-M Gens and Millennials (yes, Millennials – you too), remember, these kids know more than you think they do, they need you and the beat goes on.