The Greatest Generation: Born before 1928
2.11 million in the US, all stats are from 2017
The Silent Generation: 1928-1945
24.44 million in the US
72.56 million in the US
Gen X: 1961-1979
65.45 million in the US
Millineals: 1980-1996 72.06 million in the US
Gen Z/i-gen: 1995-2012 90.55 million in the US
I recently heard of the new phrase “okboomer.” My first exposure was a meme and I laughed out loud. Glee filled my body at the sight of such blatant and explicit sass. As my job would have it, I quickly started hearing it from the mouths of youth in conversation. I love working with millineals and gen z, also known as i gen. They are a smart and saucy bunch and teach me a lot. Each generation has their themes. Okboomer is a phrase to acknowledge an old school, outdated, non progressive way of thinking and being. It can apply to anyone at any age, but stems from the generation on its last legs in the work force and politics which is led mostly by affluent white men.
I am going to start this blog with the positives of generational movements before I talk about challenges. I am deeply grateful to the people who came before me who have fought for a better world. Each one has built upon the other for the freedoms and opportunities that I have now. At no time in history has a single, middle aged, bi-sexual woman been able to be so educated, free, vocal, accepted and self sufficient. We have gay marriage and child protection services, mental health is talked about more, we are talking about race and sexism explicitly. The list goes on. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I do not personally take any of this for granted. The issue here is: there is still A LOT of work to be done before we have true social justice. Now I’m gonna let the critique fly in support of the generations to come. It’s going to be their world after all. It might also be good to keep in mind that each generation as they aged had at least some issue with the norms of the next. There are pros and cons to every age and era. Ultimately, the future belongs to them.
As a gen x-er myself, we are the middle child between boomers and millennials. Nirvana led our way with the teen angst of sarcasm and apathy that hallmarks our coming of age. Our “okboomer” was an eye roll with, “whatever.” Then we smoked a joint in our flannels and baggy jeans. We knew we were inheriting a bunch of bullshit to deal with. I knew and still know I will never get my full social security checks because the boomers will suck it mostly dry. We also knew because our numbers are smaller, we would never have the voting power we needed to really tell our parents and grandparents generational ideas and policies to fuck off. Many of us went ahead and helped raise a generation that can. Millenials and gen z are huge and many are just about to start voting. I can’t wait! Get me some popcorn because a wave of change is going to happen folks, and if you are old school you are not gonna like it. The message: wake the fuck up and share the wealth.
People like to tout that millennials and gen z are a bunch of entitled and delicate flowers. While their generations have challenges like the rest of us, when people label them like this they are missing the whole context and point. They are coming of age in an era unlike any other, faced with worldwide crippling issues. Yes, they have more freedom than ever in many ways. They have more material wealth and opportunities in many ways. We get to pat ourselves on the back for the progress made, and they should thank us for that. They are also having to face a future of imminent climate change catastrophe. Gun violence, war and terrorism have been a norm their whole lives. Overstimulation and a constant barrage of information streams come at them with too many choices. Decision fatigue and over scheduling impact their growing young brains. Bullying is more accessible than ever, the education system is broken and fucked, the economy is rigged and costs of living are unrealistic, health care is for the privileged only. I could go on. People, the generations that preceded them set this all up. It’s our fault. We owe these kids a big fucking apology. I don’t begrudge them a sassy term to call it out at all. I also don’t blame them for crying and yelling about it. We fought for their ability to be sensitive and say they hurt, to have the emotional connection and boundaries we did not as kids. Vulnerability is not their weakness, it is their strength. We fail them, and ultimately ourselves, when we do not adequately give empathy and understanding for the reasons why.
Many boomers love to think they are so progressive. Many were when they were young and I love them for it. I especially appreciate the people who participated in the civil rights movement and women who burned bras and went into board rooms. They were the generation who said, “Don’t trust anyone over 30.” Perhaps they thought they would never age? Sadly, many got older and totally sold out. They think because they fought a good fight and protested that they know everything and what’s right. They want to apply their tactics for social change on the youth. The problem is, the world has completely changed with technology and those tactics don’t work anymore. Don’t we fight for justice so the next generation can have better and do better? The fights not over folks. In fact, the stakes are higher. Like: our planet. These kids are taking what you earned and upping the ante. They want justice extended to EVERYONE and EVERYTHING. They know the difference between equality and equity and want, no demand, justice. This is a diverse and multi-cultural fluid generation who value difference. This includes being sensitive to pronouns, blatantly calling out sexism, racism and homophobia, and not accommodating old white men, or just heterosexual white people in general. I’m totally on board.
Gen x, we’ve got our shit too. I heard the term, “Karen,” the other day for us. I also laughed. It’s in reference to white gen x people who quit caring about social justice and are more concerned for their latte order and if their Lexus gets bumped in the Whole Foods parking lot. It’s the best, I see this all the time. I can even see it in myself in moments. Many of us never sold out because we never really tried in the first place. We figured it was fucked anyway and we might as well get ours while we can. I have been pissed at the Basics my whole life, even though I work for compassion and try to direct the rage onto the system that creates such ignorance.
Look it, teen angst has always been here. Adolescents have helped change the world forever, thank god. For those of us over 40 who did try, who are still trying for change, have a sense of humor and listen. Maybe some of the cultural influences of youth are problematic, I see that, but there is wisdom too. Most of all there is passion. Passion creates change. I would rather embrace and learn from the change than fight it. If you are doing it right, aging should be telling you that you really don’t know shit. Maybe instead of judging everyone on our own rubric we can learn from one another, we can collaborate.
It’s tempting to want to lecture youth. It doesn’t work. When I work with kids I validate the angst, listen to concerns and ideas, ask A LOT of questions, and then maybe…maybe, and only if I ask permission first, offer some of my ideas. I find this is the best way to collaborate and mix the wisdom of experience from age with the fresh eyes of youth. For example, a conversation I have often with gen z is about call out culture. It is complex. As someone who came of age in a time where I had to defer a lot to get ahead I understand that if calling out is done in a polarizing way, it’s a problem. It shuts down the dialogue and gives little room to connect and grow. I had to placate a lot of white male egos to get ahead. However, calling out needs to be done and we live in a moment where more issues are on the table to freely and explicitly call out. The #metoo movement is a good example of this. So fuck deference, I like it that these kids don’t play that game. We are all in a creative process to find the middle way. In fact, my whole fucking blog is an experiment on finding the balance of calling out assholery with compassion for greater dialogue. Of course, some people get so defensive up front they make a judgement call on me and walk away. These are the okboomers and Karen’s. There is rigidity there and a fear to engage. Some folks get curious and self reflect, they participate. Even if they disagree they are open to other’s views. These are the collaborators and change makers. You people are my tribe. The youth today need us. They need us to listen, model and guide. Like my little cartoon above, each generation has their assets, and if we band together we are stronger. For me, I want to help the youth tear down the walls and burn the patriarchy. Even if that means I have to eat some humble pie for my part in it. Even if that means I am clumsy and slow to adopt pronouns and inclusive language, or I hit edges of discomfort in my own identity or racist choices….which I do frequently. Go for it kids, I’ve totally got your back!
You may wonder how this applies to sailing on a sailing blog. Look around your marina. How many young folks are there? You want more? You want the ones that are there to join your clubs and eventually buy your boats? Get on board then. Sailing is traditionally “pale, male and stale.” Organizations better work on a huge branding shift, better diversity trainings and more representative staff if they want the youth to participate. May we all sail in peace.