Handling the Challenge of Generational Change
Brandon Sun, December 28, 2015 - David McConkey
The changeover from Stephen Harper to Justin Trudeau has got me
thinking a lot about generational change. Ha! Who am I kidding? The
turning of the calendar and my impending old age have really got me
I am on the verge of joining those receiving the monthly “brown envelope.” And talking about Old Age Security payments like that dates me in so many ways!
Whatever. Generational change is happening all over the place. And my generation – the baby boomers – are not handling it well!
First, let’s define our terms. Of course, these broad generational generalizations gloss over many subtleties. But looking at whole generations can be illuminating. And just plain fun!
There were five generations in the last century. Those who fought in the Second World War were the “greatest generation.” They were born from 1900 to the mid 1920s. They have now almost all passed away.
The baby boom generation was born from the end of the Second World War until the early 1960s. Baby boomers are now in their 50s and 60s.
In between those two boisterous generations was a more quiet group called – appropriately enough – the “silent generation.” They were born from the mid 1920s until the end of the Second World War. They are now in their 70s and 80s.
Younger than the baby boomers is “generation X.” They were born from the early 1960s to the early 1980s. They are now in their early 30s to their early 50s.
Still younger is the “millennial generation” (or “generation Y”). They were born from the early 1980s to about 2000. They are now in their mid teens to their early 30s.
As the years go by, new generations will be born. And then defined. Generation Z? Then what? Only time will tell.
Stephen Harper likely will be Canada’s only baby boomer prime minister. (If we ignore the few months of Kim Campbell.) Probably by the time Justin Trudeau retires, we baby boomers will be too old to be prime ministerial contenders.
Every generation must confront their own passing from the stage. At some point, we realize that the next generation is better than we are. The young are more capable, more adaptable, and more technologically competent. And better educated: there is more knowledge now and people need to know more.
Unfortunately, we baby boomers are not adjusting well. We resent the youth and the achievements of others. (We baby boomers are self-centred – growing up, everything revolved around us!) So now we are lashing out. We have become that grouchy old guy who brandishes his cane and yells at the kids to get off his lawn!
Case in point: the cranky, anti-intellectual Harper era. The nasty Harper election campaigns were aimed at grumpy and resentful voters. And aimed at turning off young people and discouraging their participation.
Remember Harper’s message in 2011 against Michael Ignatieff? Don’t vote for Ignatieff: he is too highly educated, too widely travelled, too generally successful. And Harper’s campaign against Justin Trudeau? It seethed with resentment: that Trudeau was young, handsome, and so darn cool!
In the U.S., there is a classic baby boomer: Donald Trump. We baby boomers cheer Trump on when he hurls personal insults. And when he calls women “slobs” and “disgusting animals.” That’s exactly how we talked back in high school! Great to be reminded of those days! Think what we could have done back then if we’d had Twitter!
So I am delighted with gen-Xers and millennials. Compared to us baby boomers, they are less racist, less sexist, and less homophobic. Younger generations act less like bullies – whether in the schoolyard, in the workplace, or on the campaign trail. And they are curious about science and keen on education.
We are already seeing this positive change as we transition from the baby boomer Harper to Trudeau, the gen-Xer. Trudeau is respectful and courteous. Trudeau welcomes youth as voters and as engaged citizens.
Our governance has already benefitted from Trudeau’s embrace of science, learning and achievement. As commentators point out, the Trudeau cabinet is more talented and accomplished than were the previous Harper cabinets.
And I expect that, when the time comes, gen-Xers and millennials will also handle a big challenge better than we baby boomers have. That big challenge? Generational change.
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