The Myth of Generations

What’s up with this fascination we have?  A modest proposal for doing something different.


Something has been bugging me for quite a while, so it’s time to write about it.

I’m troubled by all the time and space that is being given over to the exploration of the generations at work.  It really started with us, the Baby Boomers.  We were the first such cohort in history identified, with our own characteristics, culture, clothing, language, etc.  

Our parents, the “Greatest Generation” (or Silent Generation or Traditionalists), were only identified later and in contrast to the Boomers.

Now we have Generation X, Generation Y (the Millennials), and even Generation Z (the Digital Natives).  

And, like with everything else in our lives, the timeframes are being compressed.  Where a generation used to be 20-25 years, because that’s how long it took for one generation of humans to produce the next one, we’re now down to 15 years or less to define a “generation”.

I guess we’re changing the definition.

I can work with that -- up to a point.  Sure, the distinctions many are making between these various groups do have some utility.  Entering any new culture, it is always a good idea to be familiar with the norms and customs.  That will help to smooth the interactions and soften any misunderstandings.

And we’ve gone more than a bit overboard with it all.

I have theory about it: our current fascination with these new “generations” is borne out of our era’s obsession with difference.  It is individualism run amok.  More harshly, I wonder if these generational divides aren’t a 20th century phenomenon resulting from our worship of youth and casting aside of the aged.

Traditional, indigenous societies have always had a both-and approach to the generations.  In their rites of passage, initiates would be fully embraced by their elders, recognized as the new hope for the future.  AND, at the same time, they would be responsible for honoring what came before.  Indelible webs of connection were built across the divides.

Before you dismiss me as some old f@&t off on a rant, I want to say I’m not for going back to some misperceived ideal.  I am, however, arguing strongly against over-reliance on facile, artificial distinctions at the expense of what we have in common.  We need to find the new both-and; the source of connection between us.

Rites of passage are about becoming part of the group.  Finding commonality.  Having a place.  Learning the rules (and changing them when needed).  Without sacrificing individuality.

The antidote to the divisions and distinctions is conversation.  Real, meaningful conversation.  Always has been.  These generations will find new and exciting ways to work together and learn from each other by creating genuine relationships through sincere interaction.

Know yourself.  Be curious about the other.