Monday, March 9, 2009

Generational Power

I'm reading Generations by Strauss and Howe. I've known from pop culture and my own struggles that the Boomers have been running the show for a long time. Born in '60, I call myself a tail-end boomer. Like the little sister always lagging behind, I missed out on all the pivotal events that made the boomers what they are. I was seven when Woodstock happened. I've tagged behind the 'boomers in everything else, too. I leapfrogged through my career laterally, as the 'boomers had Management all sewn up. So I had to be flexible, alert for opportunities. It took me twenty years to make it to Management, but I did it. I tell my Millenial generation that their progress will be much, much faster.

So I relate much more to the "thirteeners", or Generation Y, who followed the boomers. Their struggles are my struggles. I was with the Gen Y's when we got tested, and tested, again for our literacy. Our horrified teachers would pull out the dusty grammar books and drag us through the basics over and over again. Unlike my Gen Y counterparts, I had learned to read and write thanks to the British West Indies Reader. I'd started my education in the tropics, where they still believed in old fashioned rote learning. After a week of grinding boredom in Canada, a sympathetic English teacher showed sympathy. She exempted me from the grammar exercises and gave me books from her private collection to write book reports on.

The Gen Y is a cynical generation, reserved, not opening up easily. I don't admit very easily to my own cynicism, probably because I tag it as "realism". It really has been that hard to get ahead. I've been laid off. I applied like a madwoman to get back in. I've pommeled that glass ceiling to no apparent effect. I've felt my whole life that the boomers are running the show, and nobody asked me what I thought.

Which is why this book is such a revelation. The authors point out that the Gen Y's now dominate the culture by population. One can't tell by watching television, as geriatric ads now dominate the air waves. Is it perhaps because the media and entertainment industry has a tough sell to cynics?

So who are we, the Gen Y's? What makes us care? This paragraph from the Generations book really hit home for me, regarding civic mindedness, ..."12 percent of them mentioned voting as an attribute of good citizenship. Then again, 48 percent mentioned personal generosity... When you vote, maybe you waste your time - or, worse, later feel tricked. But when you do something real, like bringing food to the homeless, you do something that matters, if only on a small scale. The president of MIT has likened the 13er civic attitude to that of the Lone Ranger: Do a good deed, leave a silver bullet, and move on."

I'm thinking my plans for middle age and retirement are perfectly suited to that mentality. I don't trust that the institutions I will interact with in a few years are at all prepared to be kind, human. I have the power to make a difference, in my own small way, towards a kinder experience in the queues and lines I will eventually join. I have the time and energy to give myself to a cause, and I can do it quietly without a lot of fanfare.

It's a perfectly fine civic activity to keep me engaged and active for a very long time. I think Gen Y's will make great volunteers in our middle years. Just don't pull any fast ones.

I borrow the picture from Charles Rowland, and his blog, whom I suspect is a fellow-feeling thirteener.