Bridging The Generational Divide

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Over the past few years, we’ve heard the term millennials frequently thrown about. Often when we hear it, it’s used by prior generations—Baby Boomers and Generation X— almost as a pejorative. From casual conversation to mainstream news media, Millennials are characterized as the source of many ills in this nation. They have been labeled disruptive, too unconventional, and a bad influence on the generation succeeding them, Generation Z. Ironically, both Baby Boomers and Generation X faced similar criticism from their respective predecessors. James Dean’s 1955 movie A Rebel Without Cause depicted a similar generational divide. Dean’s character, “Jim”, was a Baby Boomer in constant struggle with his parents to express his “true self”. He resisted his father’s efforts to mold him into the man, “he should be’, and many cheered him on from the audience.
Today, Millennials and Generation Z have begun to push back. Similarly, to Dean’s character, they are speaking out against what they believe is unfair criticism and divisive rhetoric by using historical data to remind their predecessors, this world everyone is trying to successfully negotiate, was in disarray long before they were a gleam in society’s disapproving eyes.
I vividly recall being younger and riding in the car with my father and older brother. On the radio was a mix of classic R&B and Soft Rock music my father loved, including Arthea Franklin, Elton John, The Temptations, and Billy Joel. My brother and I learned to love and appreciate my father’s “old” songs, but he couldn’t yet appreciate the newer music speaking for my generation. To my father, it didn’t sound like “real” music. He never actually said this to us, but I could tell by the look on his face whenever he allowed my brother and me to listen to our music a portion of the car ride. He didn’t move as free-spirited or happy as he did while listening to his songs. Still, my father never spoke negatively about any particular song his two boys were joyfully listening to. My father understood what was more important than convincing his two sons his music was better, was for him to foster a connection with us by supporting our interests.
How do we create meaningful connections with so many generations intersecting with each other?
We start by doing what my father did; listening as opposed to shutting down. When we listen, we hear the voices of our predecessors, telling us of the struggles they endured and the strategies they employed to create joyful lives. When we listen, we hear the voices of Millenials and Generation Z telling us they are afraid for their futures and want solutions that speak to their current situations, much like Baby Boomers worried about the concerns of their time.
When we shut down, we lose the opportunity to hear the common chorus of concerns shared cross-generationally. When we shut down, we create generational silos comprised of them versus us. Silos become more fortified with impenetrable walls reinforced by miscommunication, misunderstanding, and resentment.
When we listen, we are able to work together to marshal a plan inclusive of the successful life strategies employed by our predecessors, coupled with the innovative communication techniques created and mastered by this present generation. Listening to each other allows us to remember we are all influenced by each generation’s music, fashion styles, political ideologies, and spiritual philosophies. We are in fact mere hybrids of each other all struggling to create and sustain a safe and productive world for the children of tomorrow.
When we listen, we hear and create opportunities to foster an understanding of one another’s unique characteristics and help to develop an atmosphere of learning where we can grow to appreciate our generational and cultural differences. When we listen, we see the value in our grandparents’ stories of how they overcame their challenges and enjoy the breath of fresh air carried inside the current generation’s new strategies designed to address our common concerns.
When we listen, we all thrive.
______
Mark Winkler is an author and motivational speaker. His book, ‘My Daughter’s Keeper’, is the compelling story of a father who risked everything to remain in his daughter’s life.

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