I wrote at length about what I call the Millennial Myth yesterday and how feeding the myth is destructive to our relationships and culture. Today, I was able to find the above video, which captured the essence of my point very clearly.
Here’s the main thing I want to take out of the video: for decades, Americans have been operating based on this chart:
Every 25 years or so represents a new generation, and there are 4 generations, in general, that are alive and entering adulthood right now. This is the conventional wisdom that we have all grown up with, and it’s perfectly normal to hear Gen-Xers complain about Millennials in their workplace, or Baby Boomers talk about how everything was different for their generation, and so on.
The truth is that generations are a myth.
While we all have been told that the above chart is relevant and helpful, we all actually should have been operating with this chart in mind:
The truth is that there are just people — not generations.
There are people around us, and some are young, and some are older than us, and as we live, work, and play we interact with them. That’s it. That’s the truth.
Why is this more true than the Generational Myth?
- The Generational Myth tells us that Millennials are flighty and frivolous with their money, but actual research reveals the opposite.
- The Generational Myth told us that Baby Boomers were narcissists (The “me” generation), and now so-called Baby Boomers tell us that the real narcissists are Millennials.
- The Generational Myth, when you really get into it, doesn’t actually help us describe anyone any better than if we just relied on actual research. That’s because the Generational Myth isn’t real research — it’s just a marketing tool, and it doesn’t help real people learn about other people in any meaningful way.
If you read about generations and feel resentful or superior, there’s a reason for that.
The generational classifications are made to divide people into groups. In order for people to accept the classifications, two elements must be apparent: the majority of each group must:
- identify in some way with the description of their group, and
- be content with how they are different from the other groups.
The Generational Myth promotes feelings of how we are better than other groups. This is called superiority.
The Generational Myth also promotes resentment, because it highlights things we don’t like about people who are older or younger than us.
The Generational Myth also leaves people feeling unaccounted for, if they feel they don’t identify with the description of their group. These people can feel a little superior or a little resentful of their group.
What can you do with people who are resentful or superior?
TELL THEM THINGS!
Once a common enemy is well defined, it is possible to spread messages across groups of people. Now, we might not think of Baby Boomers or Gen-Xers as enemies, but in each generation, there is an obvious message to rally around: we are us! We are not them! And people like us believe this!
SELL THEM THINGS!
This is obvious. Kurt Cobain wrote music that was resentful and individualistic, and people who were resentful and individualistic bought it. Now, Cobain was an honest artist, but marketers didn’t take long to catch on to his popularity and were able to sell a lot of things to a lot of people based on the fact that they all wanted to buck authority.
So if you seem to be alienating another generation, the best thing to do is to quit seeing them as a generation!
Just try to think of them as people, and ask yourself, “What are we doing (or not doing) that may make it hard for some people to identify with us?”
People — not Millennials, not Baby Boomers, not Gen-Xers — are the key.