Are generations that different?

Driving to a funeral seven hours away, my wife and I caught an interesting NPR discussion on the misconceptions about generations. The only thing I can recall about the guest is he is a King’s College professor in London and had researched this topic over fifteen years. Yet, his key conclusions were counter to how various generations are labeled.

Here are a few I recall, but please forgive the lack of citing his data, which he sprinkled in throughout.

  • There is not that much difference in generations; the key differences that occur among people are based on where they are in their life cycle – are they young and single, are they married with children, are they retired?
  • To this point, we layer on what generations are like based on observations of where many are at that time. If you looked at Gen Xers or Baby Boomers when they were younger, the same generalizations could be made about Millennials.
  • One of the issues about these generalizations that make headlines is sources are way to quick to judge and name a generation, that it is not really a data driven exercise.
  • He was quick to point out there are trends that have and will occur, but we need to let them play out more to see if that particular trend is a causal one that created change.
  • He also noted we have tended to segregate people more, when we should be doing the opposite, so there can be more cross-pollination of ideas and approaches. He said this segregation is the absolute worst thing we can do, as it contributes to misconceptions.

The interview was peppered with examples of misconceptions. Rather than highlight those, I would rather focus on the overarching comment. Painting any group with a broad brush is unfair. We tend to paint people based on the actions of the more demonstrative members of a group, not recognizing that the demonstrators may be from several groups.

We do this with generations, we do this with decades, we do this with political tribes and we do this with significant events. It makes for interesting discussions, but the key is to challenge that way of thinking. This is especially true when the generalization paints with a repeated slogan that its creators want you to be influenced by.

The “we” is a collective we as we all have tended to do this. So, the next time we paint with a broad brush, we should stop ourselves and think is this true or just a clever remark? Often, it is the latter, but it is not based on supportable evidence.

17 thoughts on “Are generations that different?

  1. Another good point, Keith. I remember when I had a store in a mall and my fellow merchants wanted to find a way to keep the dreaded teenagers out. I decided instead to create a corner where young people could feel comfortable. Met many motivated and enlightening individuals. We all need respect and acknowledgment, no matter what stage of life.

  2. Great thoughts. I have always appreciated the insights different generations bring to me. The young ones keep me tech savvy and hip, the older ones have great insights on life. Diversity keeps me engaged. It saddens me when I hear people generalize a generation. Like you said, it’s really about stages of life cycle.

    • Too funny. What I get amused by is people who stereotype me for the way I look and my age, then we start talking and they realize how wrong they are. I love finding eclectic people among any generation. What was the line from Rush’s “Subdivision” about the dangers of conformity admonishing folks “to conform or be cast out?” Keith

      • I’ve always liked Rush, but don’t recall ever having heard ‘Subdivisions’, nor paid any attention to the lyrics if I did… until now:

      • peNdantry, most of their song lyrics were written by Neal Peart, their legendary drummer. My favorite lyric is in their song “Free Will” which “when you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” Keith

  3. Note to Readers: If anyone thinks it is new that their generation is being put down as younger people, The Who sang this song in the late 1960s. Its title is “Talking about my generation.” The first stanza is as follows. Note, I think Roger Daltrey sang it in a stutter to give off an impression of how people viewed them.

    “People try to put us d-down (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
    Just because we get around (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
    Things they do look awful c-c-cold (talkin’ ’bout my generation)
    I hope I die before I get old (talkin’ ’bout my generation)”

    • Linda, when someone goes looking for trouble they usually find it. He should have also been charged with reckless endangerment, which he was easily guilty of as well as his other crimes. Celebrating him, though, is just something that is rather bizarre and just shows how easily people can be influenced. Keith

      • I briefly had hopes that the lily livered young punk had actually had a change of heart. But it was just a play for sympathy. I had hoped he’d use the experience of his “fear for his life” as a reason to pull back on the gun packing. But he’s all proud of himself now. No stopping him…or the next soft minded white guy. Sorry. Here I am generalizing in a really ugly way. But we know how this would have gone if he had a different skin color.

      • Linda, he is now empowered to do more ill will, is he not? And, yes the copy cats will do the same. Glorifying his actions is about the worst thing anyone could do and those that are, deserve criticism. Avoiding generalizations, every group has its zealous extremists. We need to call them all out, but we certainly should not idolize them,. Keith

  4. The cycles of history suggest one theme:
    People growing up into adulthood don’t like being told what to do, ‘just because’
    People in adulthood don’t like having their perceived experiences minimalised by their ‘children’.
    Thus rebellion and antagonism. (In both directions).
    We can, thus, expect younger folk to adapt badges of difference in all manner of ways, be it clothing, speech, entertainment or outlooks. Some will carry those into their later years, others will gradually become their parents as the new sets of burdens rack up.
    Back in the 1950s & 1960s we (the then youth) were convinced we would change the world into a better place. Well arguably some did pick up the banners of Tolerance and Equality which had been raised by previous generations and that fight still goes on today.
    However as you will note from the actions of MAGA, Climate Change Deniers, Anti-Vaccinationers, Incel, Brexit supporters, and numerous groups on both extremes of the political divides, those who were young and those who are young have their own shares of ignorance and intolerance.
    I am therefore sceptical over the labelling as ‘The Young’ as ‘something different’ which will have a ‘lasting effect’.
    There are people. Adopting different guises as the years go on.

    • Roger, well said. I don’t know if you get “Real Time with Bill Maher” in the UK. He is a left leaning comedian who is well-informed and often has guests of different perspectives on his show. The other day he closed with a comment that if the young see Greta Thunberg as an icon and influencer (which is well placed), why does she have only 7 million followers, while Kylie Jenner has 279 million followers influencing what to buy and where to go. His point is every generation talks a good game, but acts the same selfish way. It would be nice to see Kylie steer more toward what Greta is saying. Keith

      • Thank you Keith.
        I don’t receive ‘Real Time’ on a regular basis, but have seen extracts and sympathise with the views I have witnessed.
        With regard to the one you mentioned.
        Whereas Greta Thunberg is a familiar to name, Google was required to find out who was ‘Kylie Jenner’ because the name meant nothing to me personally, having read the details it seems I would in all probability continue to function without or without that knowledge.
        Whether the lady’s opinions have some ‘trickle down’ affect on my life by degrees of separation / affinity is a moot point. I shall have to ask my grand daughter, she’s visiting us this week.

      • Roger, count me as one who is not part of her 279 million. She is one of the Jenner/ Kardashian clan who merchandized herself well. Keith

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