In April 2016, Pew Research Center published an article based on a U.S. Census
Bureau population estimate that reported millennials, born 1982-2000, had surpassed baby boomers, born 1946-64, as the country’s largest living generation. Generations are studied and defined so others know how to interact with, work alongside and market to them. But do these conversations and studies educate us, or do they divide us? Harding magazine talked to Dr. Heath Carpenter, assistant professor of English, to gain his perspective.
War. Inequality. Social Reform. Political unease. Geopolitical tensions. Progress. Technological innovation.
What are the unintended consequences? How will this change us? What is worth keeping? What deserves changing? Who am I? Who are we?
Which generation hasn’t wrestled with the above? From the Classical Age to the Enlightenment, from the Industrial Age to the Information Age, from modernist boomers to post-modern millennials, each failed spectacularly. Each rose to various challenges heroically. Each taught the next generation wisely. Each prompted the next to grow, protest and discover bravely.
From my educator’s seat, I’m bored by generational stereotypes. I discourage the silos in which we comfortably retreat, generationally segregated, talking at and not to each other. To my boomer and Gen X friends, such silos can mythologize the past, met by millennials who see the past’s rampant injustices and wars and who are tired of being harangued by finger-wagging stereotypes. To my millennial friends, there is much to learn from the past, and we’ll all need knowledge, discretion, discernment and understanding to meet today’s realities.
The great themes of the human situation rarely change in the turnover from one generation to the next. Yet there are always growing pains
in the interregnum as each generation seeks to check the flaws of the past, benefit from its gains, and progress through the unique challenges of the present.
Principles, worldview value assumptions and ideologies are worth debating. Yet, if we do so from the foundation of shared interest and common goals, we come closer to shedding the closed-mindedness of dogmatic certainty and emotionalism. Instead, with humility and eagerness to participate in our common cause, we can grow together. Such discussion should not be feared but celebrated.