As a nation, we look at the activity occurring at this time and get a very diabolical reaction. We hear many voices express a wide bandwidth of emotion – from joy and relief to panic and overwhelming sadness. There is a very clear line drawn in the sand in today’s environment attempting to divide us into distinct parties. You are with one and therefore against the other on many social platforms including religion, marriage, education, and socioeconomic status.
How did we get here? What has happened that we are now a nation that, on one hand, screams acceptance and liberty for all but, on the other, spits contemptuous words at someone who does not live their life on the same side of the invisible social fence?
The Generation Theory
We are a nation with four distinct generations making adult decisions. We should not be surprised that we have this melting pot of expectations for the ideal life. On one end of the spectrum, the Traditionalists are making decisions in the “golden years” of their life. On the other, the Millennials are beginning to impact the business atmosphere in the twilight of their adulthood. Mixed in the middle are the very different groups of Baby Boomers and Generation X’ers. This peculiar mix of standards has led to numerous workshops and studies on how to navigate the workplace environment.
Each generation has been and continues to be molded by the experiences and observations of the prior generation, creating a turn of events that have brought us here. As illustrated in this chart, no matter which generation you come from, you have a set of ideals on social acceptance and rules of engagement.
According to the Strauss-Howe generational theory, history repeats itself about every 90 years in four, consecutive turnings known as “saeculums.” Each “turn” is associated with the generation that paves the way for the next and builds to a continuous turn of events. The four turnings look like this (with the suggested generation identified in each description):
- High: An era in which both the availability of social order and the demand for social order are high. (Tradionalist)
- Awakening: The availability of social order is high, but the demand for such order is low. (Baby Boom)
- Unraveling: The mood of this era is in many ways the opposite of a High. Institutions are weak and distrusted, while individualism is strong and flourishing. (GenX)
- Crisis: An era in which America’s institutional life is torn down and rebuilt from the ground up—always in response to a perceived threat to the nation’s very survival. Civic authority revives, cultural expression finds a community purpose, and people begin to locate themselves as members of a larger group. (Millennial)
While this theory is highly argued and has received numerous reviews ranging from praise to criticism, we can probably agree with the words of David Kaiser that this is “a provocative and immensely entertaining outline of American history.”
What’s Happening Today?
We are seeing the destruction of social relationships occur every day. Regardless of your generation, most can attest to having recently had some emotionally charged conversation about a current event, either globally, nationally, or locally.
We have become a society that has created personal identities for ourselves based on how we view everyone surrounding us. As a result, it seems we are continuously streaming our personal views of others’ private choices for the public to judge. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blog sites are just an example. In the midst of our global scrambling for validation, we may have created an environment that resonates in the words of Timothy Keller:
If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political position, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition. If we get our identity from our ethnicity or socioeconomic status, then we have to feel superior to those of other classes and races. If you are profoundly proud of being an open-minded, tolerant soul, you will be extremely indignant toward people you think are bigots. If you are a very moral person, you will feel very superior to people you think are licentious…
Somehow, the art of dialogue between two disagreeing parties has been lost. This brings to mind the Heineken commercial, labeled #openyourworld that so beautifully laid out this lost art-form and what happens when we find a way to restore it. The way Heineken brought two polar sets of beliefs together on common ground to have a conversation about who they are outside of the labels resulted in respectful friendships despite their differences.
If we are to survive this turbulent time in American history, perhaps the answer is to step back and observe how we got here to begin with. If we look at past generations and all that they fought for, we will see that each brought us to this moment. This moment is of realization that we are in fact a melting pot of choices in a country established on freedom and equality for all.
What About Me?
How can we walk out of our boxes of standards and come to understand that we are all screaming the same plea?
“What about me?” is the same message we all have to say.
From the forgotten senior lying in a nursing home to the Millennial hoping to find her true identity in her college dorm room.
From the Vietnam veteran who sacrificed for a confusing war to the single teenage mom hoping to make ends meet while finishing school.
From the young attorney working to make an impact to the groundskeeper providing care in the dairy barn.
We are all asking ourselves in this time, “What about me?”
If the Strauss-Howe theory is what we are experiencing in our nation today, then the theory suggests we may be in a crisis. Regardless of anyone’s opinion of the model, we can probably agree this is a time of unrest.
Can we survive a crisis? Would it change our destiny if we took off our labels and stopped screaming, “What about me?” to instead listen? What if we sit down with someone who defies our own political beliefs and ask the person to share who they are beneath the label?
Everyone has a history. Nobody comes from a life free of struggle. If we can understand the language of each generation, can we respect the journey we are individually experiencing?
Perhaps we can walk out of our comfortable corners of life and pay attention to the gift of diversity as we are surrounded by people that all long for the same things: peace and joy.
Here’s the challenge: Let’s take off the labels. Let’s stop moving into the conversation with the need to justify yourself.
We may find you like your neighbor, despite his sign in the yard.
We may discover a friend, regardless of her marital status.
We may learn compassion for the heartaches experienced daily by the person who is “different.”
“Don’t judge me on the chapter you walked in on” ~ author unknown