The generation gap

My immediate family spans three generations.  My parents are from the Silent Generation (both born in the 1920s), and my oldest sisters are Baby Boomers, teens in the 1960s.  One of my sisters sang with Steve Miller.  I was an accident, born in the late 1960s (a Gen-Xer) when my older sisters were already getting married and moving out, and my parents were in their 40s.  My oldest sister graduated high school in 1966, my brother in 1976, and I graduated in 1986.  And my kids are all Millenials.  In short, I grew up very aware of the different values of the various generations of the 20th century.

I have been thinking about this one for a while.  There is a positive side effect of a gerontocracy, and it’s so beautiful as to seem divinely inspired to me (don’t get me started on the negatives, but here goes with the upside). Every generation has an excess of some sort or other, largely a reaction to the prior generation. And yet in reacting to the previous generation, we over-correct. And in over-correcting, we lose some of what is valuable from the prior generation’s life lessons. The “best” way is probably somewhere between our own generation’s values and prior generation’s values.

Consider how some of these generations changed values from previous ones and over-corrected in the process:

Common to all generations: dorky hats.

1920s.  Their generation had survived WW1, the war to end all wars (famous last words).  In the wake of war, it was party time.  This was the era of the roaring twenties:  promiscuity, drinking, crime, and dancing the Charleston.  23 Skidoo!  Then, the stock market crashed, that Monopoly guy took a header off a skyscraper,  and all that glittered was not gold. Cred in this group comes from holding your liquor.  Over-correction:  Fiscal and social irresponsibility.  Too much fun.

1930s – 40s.  They experienced the depression and went to war again; they concluded that the frivolity of the 1920s led to their downfall, so they cracked down on Al Capone and prohibited alcohol. They focused on duty and hard work to the exclusion of nearly everything else.  They were also known as the Silent Generation and the Greatest Generation (the latter sounds a little self-styled to me). This is the generation our current church leadership hails from.  Cred in this group comes from having eaten roadkill during the depression.  Over-correction:  Too much self-denial.  Not enough fun.

The American Dream. Gee, I wonder why we all got fat?

1950s.  In the post-war years, the focus was on harmony, the suburban lifestyle, women in aprons and men in Fedoras, white picket fences, gender roles, and keeping up with the Joneses.  Excesses were materialism and sexism (required to keep the women making the homes nice and prevent them from divorcing their husbands who worked long hours to keep up with the materialism).  Cred in this group comes from living the American dream successfully.  Over-correction:  Too much trust in authority.  Too much unhealthy competition.

1960s – 1970s.  As a reaction to the staid 1950s, and to expose the corruption and repression underlying the establishment culture, this generation led the sexual revolution, focused on personal and sexual freedoms, questioning authority, egalitarianism and drug experimentation. Excesses were manifest in STDs, drug use, and anti-authoritarianism for its own sake.  These are the Baby Boomers.  Cred in this group comes from having been at Woodstock.  Over-correction:  Too much trust in anarchy.  Lack of judgment and ambition.  Idealism.

1980s – early 90s.  The “me” generation, focused on materialism, upward mobility, and voting for Reagan.  This is of course the real greatest generation:  the Gen X crowd, baby.  Excesses were cocaine use, teen pregnancy, divorce, and big hair.  Cred in this group comes from having owned parachute pants.  Over-correction:  Too much greed and ambition.  Too much self-serving skepticism and arrogance.  But we like it.

Millenials: here in body only.

2000s.  The Millenials are the generation coming of age right now.  They are focused on corporate responsibility, fair trade coffee, being vegan, and making their own yogurt.  Their parents may have been helicopter parents.  Excesses are hyper-sensitivity to all forms of racism, sexism, homophobia and greed, plus the inability to leave home without returning and the utter lack of phone skillz (and inability to pluralize words without the letter “z”).  Cred in this group comes from number of twitter followers and brand of ADHD medication.  Over-correction:  Too much technology, idealism and entitlement.  Not enough independence and confidence.

Given these differing values, you can see why generations have a tendency to talk past each other.  Add to this the fact that as we age, we also tend to mellow.  For example, compare a Boomer with how they were during the turbulent sixties.  Their 1960s self would say they’ve sold out to the establishment, but their current version would say they just grew up a bit, and yet their values haven’t become that of prior generations either.  The pendulum just comes back a little more toward the center without going all the way back to what it rebelled against in the first place.

In this way, generations improve on the misguided aspects of prior generations’ values.  But each generation also fools itself into thinking that they’ve finally gotten it right, when in reality, their values may be an overreaction to prior generations’ values, which may have been an overreaction to the generation before their own.  As George W said, history will be the judge.  We really can’t accurately judge things like this in real time.

Being led by a gerontocracy is positive in that it reminds us that our generation’s values are but a moment in time, and that prior generations also thought they had it all figured out.  Most of the downside also comes from that generation gap.  The generation gap works best when we use it to stay humble and teachable, regardless of which generation we belong to.  Every generation got things right, and every generation falls short.

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