The Generational Imbroglio

We read every day about the generational “war” between Boomers (disclosure - I’m a boomer) and Millennials. Each side sees the other as myopic and out of touch with reality, often creating parodies or emotional videos that include “evidence” for their case. 

Boomers, Millennials feel, are hypocrites. They point out that Boomers describe Millennials as entitled, spoiled and obsessed with social media, yet they live very entitled lives, consume far more resources than is sustainable and in fact created many of the problems we face. Millennials, Boomers claim, want recognition and success without sacrifice. They point out the statistics on Millennials still living at home and the “participation ribbon” culture of our schools.

This is the problem with much analysis of data. Without the right context, it’s very easy to jump to the wrong conclusion. For example:

  • Yes, more Millennials live at home (37% of women, 43% of men. Pew Research). The undertone to many of the “conclusions” is that many millennials don’t want to have to pay their own rent or face the struggles of being on their own. But the reality is, these young adults face staggering debt when they graduate from college. Many can only find entry-level or gig jobs with few benefits and long commutes. And guess who are leading the universities raising their fees, the loan companies offering easy money and running companies that exploit young workers seeking work? Boomers.
  • The belief that selfish Boomers caused the 2008 recession. Did they play a role? Yes, as it was boomers who deregulated the banking industry and sanctioned subprime mortgages. But the recession didn’t result from an age bias. What ultimately caused the recession was greed, and everyone involved, from every generation, is guilty. Don’t agree? Just look at startups today, which are mostly headed by millennials. So much of the focus is on funding and exit strategies rather than building great companies. Greed is human nature and knows no age boundary.

So you can point to just about any criticism of each group and with the right context, understand why things are the way they are. What’s causing the problem is our judgement of others. When we judge others, it inhibits our ability to think clearly and objectively. And as a result, we invite other to judge us, creating a vicious cycle of blame.

Rather than judging by writing dismissive parodies or sharing colorful speeches that are long on emotion and short on fact, we should apply one of Covey’s habits of successful people. 

“Seek first to understand, then be understood.”

I believe we all agree that we have tremendous challenges ahead. So let’s focus on how we can all work toward solving them and recognize that in some way, shape or form we’re all to blame. Spending our energy in any other way accomplishes nothing.