Britta Gustafson: Generation Hope
Nobody likes to be labeled. We didn’t care for them back in high school, we cringe at the thought of our children being stereotyped, and we often become non-conformists as we mature in an effort to shed the labels others have placed upon us.
“Branding,” is a term used by old-school cowboys and marketing firms. Merriam-Webster defines it as “a mark made by burning or otherwise, to indicate make, or ownership; a mark formerly put upon criminals and cattle with a hot iron; any mark of disgrace; stigma. A kind or variety of something distinguished by some distinctive characteristic.”
When we label whole generations, we are branding them. Generational groups are much larger than high school cliques or subcultures following pop stars and YouTube sensations, and the implications of a self-fulfilling prophecy can be historic.
Still, we are accustomed to being categorized demographically even when based solely on our birth year, lumped into a category and judged by the “others” based on a set of predictable scenarios and patterns of behavior that may have everything to do with the current culture and little to do with the age of the individuals.
How can we avoid stereotyping a group of people that can span decades and instead help promote a name worthy of aspiring, not succumbing, to becoming?
We know what we’ve been told, even if you don’t fit into your mold. But here’s a refresher.
Baby boomers (simply known as boomers) were born, give or take, between 1946 and 1963. They are the demographic cohort, known best for their noticeable contribution to the bulging population. They follow the silent generation, who begot the Greatest Generation — and after growing up during the Great Depression and fighting in World War II, who can argue with that title.
Generation X followed the boomers, born around 1964 to 1976. Some say the “X” in their name refers to this generation’s desire not to be defined. Seems like a cop-out for a generation that needed a brand but had not yet contributed any historic, societal endowment.
Enter millennials, born somewhere between 1977 to 1996, or pretty much anyone who came of age, or drinking age, at the turn of the millennium. The stereotype they are contending with has become synonymous with an incessant dependency on technology. The creators of social media, they also are defined as the “Everyone got a trophy” generation and are criticized for acting entitled and narcissistic. They also are the first generation to have been heavily branded before they entered the workplace.
On their heels comes Generation Z. Really? Too young to know life before the 21st century, these are the first kids to be born after the rise of the internet, for whom 9/11 was history and who are suspected to be the most individualistic and technology-dependent generation. They also are beginning to be labeled as the iGeneration.
If we expect the next generation to identify exclusively with the “iTech” atmosphere in which they are being raised, than I think we are further placing into their hands a much more incendiary device, something beyond the iPhones in their caricatures. We pass down limits, branding them helpless, perhaps even useless in the face of technology. A generation with no hope.
But I propose the possibility that we branders are in for a rebellious backlash, which I advocate for. Perhaps these kids will denounce social media, yearn for an unscripted reality, crave an authentic purposeful life of organic interactions with peers and neighbors. Maybe they will revolt and make friending someone a lame thing, something that old people do on an obsolete platform. Maybe they will even get off of their devices and revolutionize a failing social structure.
Perhaps they will seek out a genuine radius of real life connections, rooted in physically meaningful interactions and remove screens from their social experiences. That’s what I forcast on the horizon for this upcoming, and as yet undefined, generation.
We handed our kids the iDevices before they could talk and classified social media as something social. But I have faith as I watch these kids, and believe they are going to do what all teenagers and young adults do: rebel against societal norms.
They want a future, no more doom and gloom. They see a planet on fire, but they want to put out the flames. They want to dig in the dirt and meet face-to-face.
These kids are not yet trying to solve all of the problems on a global scale, even though they are aware of a growing need to rectify the mistakes made by previous generations. They are still just striving to feel the earth moving beneath them and to feel embraced by humanity.
They want hope. They are, in many ways, our hope.
During preparation for a statewide competition held last week at Aspen Middle School, I watched this next generation find its stride.
The competition, a FIRST LEGO League’s robotics tournament, was focused on finding ways to help the cities, towns, and places the kids call home reach new heights. The kids were in command of the technology, programming and coding it. All along they sought teamwork, met face-to-face and found joy in their solutions, even when the problems they were tackling included global water shortages, large scale pollution, climate change and an ever-exploding population.
Brimming with optimism and inspiration, they are still too young to even consider giving up hope. And I don’t see why we should burden them with limiting labels.
During the intense days leading up to their competition, the kids began to recognize that all of the teams competing had independently selected an environmentally active approach to solving their individual city challenges. And my daughter’s team suggested, somewhere along the way, that they are Generation Hope.
Now that is a self-proclaimed label that I can get behind!
Let’s exchange a piece of my mind for a little peace of mind; after all, if we always agree what will we talk about? Britta Gustafson appreciates an open mind; share yours and email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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