Pandemic Diary – Generational Divisions

Are generalized claims of generational differences helpful? Or what is prevalent in one generation is usually ubiquitous in all generations? Do the generalized criticisms become antagonistic, reductive, and more a means to debase and diminish than to inform, educate, communicate, and improve? With our communication and technological advances, are people far more connected and younger generations bear the brunt of growing up under the spotlight of an ever effusive multi-generation of fussy whining individuals that oftentimes find it easier to criticize than to praise? Do older generations likely forget and disregard, sometimes purposely, that they too once were kids attempting to imperfectly find their way through life while younger generations dismiss and overlook that they are hyper-emotional, hormonally-overwrought smart-alecks who think they’re indestructible and all too often feel as if their problems are insurmountable and they alone carry the weight of the world on their shoulders? Or is all that communication the inevitable result of progress and likely a good thing? A way to find common ground to improve ourselves and society?

Several years ago during the latter part of the Obama administration, I overheard a multi-generational (mostly Baby Boomers) group of family members arguing how younger generations were less domesticated, lazier, and spoiled. Specifically implicit in that silly assertion was that it was the women who were at fault as they were the main culprits and spreaders of this syndrome. I listened respectfully and laughed somewhat as this was likely a shady insult aimed at me personally given my prior experience with them and their perpetual dismissal of my current poor, artistic, nomadic, and unconventionally hedonistic lifestyle I forged (to save my sanity and physical health) that did not include a husband, babies, house with a mortgage, a big bulky SUV, and an Apple watch (which, for some reason, was a thing they kept telling me I must have). They spun this grievance as some sort of younger diseased generational trait aimed at my generation (GenX) and Millennials. At that time, I was in my mid-forties and am now 51 so age is all relative in the conversation, and given that some of my younger cousins were agreeing with them—well.

As I stated in an earlier post, I grew up surrounded by a bunch of difficult, unpleasant, highly critical bullies—and these were merely the maternal relatives—I won’t even touch upon the paternal ones. Where I grew up, people—white people—were mean if not outright cruel; you had to bend—contort even—like bamboo without breaking in order to survive. Self-preservation and resilience were core, and along with that came all the trauma and suffering—for some of us more than others.

These family members that sat around me were middle-class, white, Christian, conservative suburbanites having progressed from their poorer bucolic origins to a more comfortable lifestyle. I would add insular and bigoted to that long list, and while they were not overly educated, they were not quite under-educated—at least a few of them were not.

I questioned the legitimacy of their claims and asked for evidence; they gave me some personal anecdotal examples of their own grandchildren—nothing really significant. I told them that every new generational elder most likely says the same thing to all the kids and that it was ageist, sexist, and prejudicial considering the modern world and technological advances, and likely an attempt to boost their own egos while attempting to maintain relevance and establish some kind of cultural control and dominance over younger generations (as is evident in the many octogenarians who refuse to give up their political, wealth, judicial and legislative power currently). They looked at me like they always looked at me—like I was disrespectful and insane.

I then mentioned that I heard that same sort of problematic statement a few years earlier (circa 2006?) when I worked for a private women’s college and a group of academics and non-academic administrators repeated a variation of that claim—that younger generations were less likely to leave home or once they did live in a dorm, became homesick quicker and left. This was a group entrusted to devise a plan to keep them in their dorms and thus in college and a paying customer. I was skeptical of that and took in the information at the time as growing confirmation of what I gathered since I first started working there a few years earlier—that even in the hallowed institution of the university was a greedy, overly priced money-making business that cared little for and were less sympathetic towards their students than enlarging their already massive endowments.

Mind you, this was all many years ago (circa 2015?) before the Hellmouth opened and the apocalypse was nigh.

The family members nodded along with me ignoring all the other bits of what I was trying to explain—that the team was multi-generational and their intent was specific, et cetera—agreeing with their own biased assertions with caveats while I attempted to introduce them to some other logic without them emotionally overreacting, standing up and yelling into my face, which had happened on many occasions both as an adult and a child; very intimidating and not conducive to comfortably sharing knowledge. I learned early on that I had to eliminate my antagonism and tread lightly sandwiching new information with some sorta nuance and an anecdotal variation of their distorted info in order to get a word in edgewise while continuously pushing my message across, ultimately insinuating that this was their information and conclusion and not mine. It is exhausting and something I am unskilled and very clumsy at but learned to do more effectively once I studied Buddhism and rid myself of my ego.

The biggest lesson of my life was booting that ego and one I wish I would’ve learned way earlier.

What are you getting at, you ask? Well, when I write things like—I am remembering a line from a Loretta Chase historical romance whose character commented and poked fun at the priggish nature of the younger generation—is that what’s happening?—I am purposely wading into that broad generalization because I’m wondering are we priggish? I don’t know the sociocultural history of generational priggishness, if there is any such thing. I’m sure there are studies or books—I would love to read them. Personally, I’m not sure I can be objective because I am the least priggish person while my mother, a Baby Boomer, is one of the most priggish people I’ve ever known and encountered.

Yeah, so? Well, then there is this:

Our generations are more literate and have greater access to reading materials too, and logic states that is why the right is ticking off censorship on their fascist agenda quest towards autocracy—they want us to be dumb and obedient, especially women. So this intergenerational debate about reading restrictions is fascinating and simply a chapter in a more extensive topic and book—and one I would love to read (one of you overly educated people should write that). Methinks the complainers who are yelling the loudest are the fascists aka the bigots; the rest of us—regardless of generation—love reading and writing our LGTBQ+ and cisgender romance novels and fanfics and movies and shows filled with juicy explicit sex, kissing profanity, and nudity; created and written and produced by multigenerational teams that celebrate such. At least that is what I hope. And on the topic of us being lazy homebodies? Perhaps we have made our priorities and mindset something closer and more aligned to our values of a healthy, just, and inclusive lifestyle because we’ve watched and encountered what happens when we don’t—an unhappy, miserable, mentally and physically exhaustive, and unhealthy experience that is endlessly torturous and unfair and gets us nowhere good, and definitely not fun.

I’ve exhausted myself and this topic for today—I’m gonna go read my copy of The 1619 Project by Nikole Hannah-Jones along with a romance novel while watching The Expanse.

© 2022 Matilda London/Pamela Gay Mullins

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