Friction between generations is not a new phenomenon, but it has reached a boiling point amidst the pandemic that could create permanent fractures between them.
by Iqra Khan
The pandemic has pushed people to new extremes in their beliefs. Young people, who were once joking about the death of Baby Boomers, are now truly wishing for it, as they watch their senior leaders incite hate whilst poorly managing the pandemic. Both of these have fostered new levels of divisiveness in society, and paired with repeated lockdowns, the gaps between the different generations have rapidly and drastically increased.
The seniority of world leaders has given rise to questions concerning age-related competency – namely, whether there should be an age limit for individuals to run in elected office. This is just one example of the concerns young people have, but lies at the heart of controversial discourse. It is a more moderate stance on the contempt that many young people feel towards the older generations, but does also raise concerns regarding ageism. Ultimately, age does not make an individual any less deserving of rights or opportunities, leading some to interpret this line of questioning as an ageist one.
This is where the trilemma lies: Should we adopt a more compassionate approach to generational perceptions? Or are young people completely justified in their contempt? Is there a neutral stance on this? Let’s find out.
First, it is important to understand what constitutes each generation, and what lived experience they were most likely to have grown up with. There are four main generation categories: Baby Boomers, Generation X, Generation Y (Millennials), and Generation Z.
Baby Boomers, or “Boomers” in colloquial terms, are the generation born between 1943-1964. If you are a young reader, this is most likely your grandparents and parents’ generation. This generation is called the Baby Boomer generation as over 2.4 million babies were born after 1946; the first year of the baby boom. This generation lived through the Second World War, and the reconstruction that followed it. These dates coincide with the Windrush Generation, in which almost half a million people were invited to Britain from the Caribbean to help with labour shortages following the war.
Generation X is the generation born between 1965-1980. This generation grew up in the era of reconstruction following the Second World War. A culture of “work addiction” started here, as unemployment was high and opportunities scarce. This generation carried much of the concerns that their parents had as adults, but from a young age – despite earning more than their parents, they did not retain much wealth due to debt brought about by the Great Recession.
Generation Y, also known as “Millennials” and “Digital Natives”, are the generation born between 1981-1997. This generation grew up surrounded by technology, as some of the largest developmental strides took place during their adolescence. They constitute the largest generation in the workforce, and as bachelor degree-holders, yet are expected to rise above growing competition by being better qualified and trained for their age, all in the face of (yet another) economic crisis. Unlike previous generations, Millennials are more vocal about their discontent with the world, which has invited elder generations to label them as lazy, narcissistic, and spoilt.
Generation Z, “Gen Z’s”, “iGens”, or “Centennials”, are the most current generation, born between 1997-present day. This generation was born into technology, and all, if not much, of their socialisation and coming-of-age was strongly influenced by the Internet. This generation is the most racially and ethnically diverse, are enrolling to and completing school at the highest rates, yet will struggle the most to step onto the property ladder or enter the job market. These struggles have been worsened by the pandemic, as the economy crashes and unemployment rises (again).
Perspective from Contempt
Millennials and Gen Z’s have been left with the legacies of a failing economic, job, and property market. Endemic corruption is rampant across the globe. There appears to be no hope for their futures. These are just some of the fears and worries that are common throughout these generations. Elder leaders have succeeded in dividing their nations, spreading hate, ruining their economy, and abandoning their people when they need strong leadership the most. Each generation that succeeds their own have left the state of the world in worse conditions than they had the luxury of enjoying. Current generations are expected to repair every bit of damage inflicted, and none of it by them. Why should there be empathy or compassion, when none has been reserved for them?
Perspective from Reconciliation
Drawing on differences is precisely what is increasing the divide between the generations, but focusing on the similarities could unite them and repair these fractured relationships. Each generation has had to come-of-age during some form of crisis, whether this be a war or a pandemic. Although these appear to be different, they have been treated in similar fashion by governments, and truly share more in common than one would expect. They are circumstances of emergency, isolation is encouraged and enforced to protect one another, and futures have been put on hold or damaged. This reality does not come at the fault of one given generation, so to impute blame or wish death on them is simply a misdirection of frustration, and is of no productivity in healing. Change cannot occur if there is no open dialogue, and meaningful discourse is only possible with compassion. Reconciliation is a must.
Neutral: Perspective from Moderation
Despite the similarities between the generations, there are fundamental differences that are characteristic of variations in thinking, ones that can be traced along lines of generational categories. Lived experience is contained within the social and historical place in time. The thinking of previous generations was suited to the problems and concerns, as well as popular thinking, of their time. This is a reality that should be accepted and respected; the time for the current generations to lead will come, and it will only take time for them to be labelled, or accused of, the same things that elder generations are having attributed to them.