Age-based generational divides are nothing new. Famously, they occurred between the ‘Silent/Greatest Generations’ and the ‘Baby Boomers’ in the 1960s. The Baby Boomers represented progress and freedom while the old-guard, the Silent and Greatest Generations represented conformity and stagnation. This may or may not actually be what happened, but to the victors goes history, and the Baby Boomers won. Now more than sixty years later the same thing is happening involving, once again, the Baby Boomers. This time, however, they are on the other side.
The fight between Millennials and Generation Z versus Baby Boomers came to a head recently when a clever Gen-Zer designed a simple sweater that said “OK Boomer.” The product sold out quicker than Bieber tickets.
The reply “OK Boomer” has since become a meme employed by young people to dismiss the antiquated ways and logic of the old. It’s the ideal response to a Baby Boomer pontificating about something “back in my day.”
What’s New and What’s Not
Okay, so young people find old people annoying and old people find young people annoying. What’s new? There is nothing inherently wrong with generational conflict, especially not when radical changes are needed and one side of the conflict is stuck in complacency. But that’s not really what we are seeing here. Some of the generational disagreements between the young and the old are not deep-seeded issues, they are actually quite superficial. A problem occurs when we stop trying to persuade one another and just throw up our hands and say “you can’t understand.” That, unfortunately, is what seems to be happening in the case of “OK Boomer.”
In this case fault is a two-way street and both sides would benefit from compromise. Many Boomers, for instance, seem to get a kick out of Millennials and Gen-Zers perceived weakness or wimpishness. I would counter this claim by highlighting the fact that virtually EVERY generation in history has thought the next generation weaker and less tough. Even if this is true (which it probably isn’t) what is so bad about a little sensitivity? Is it preferable to have a cold, unfeeling society where no one can communicate open and honestly with one another? This does not mean that young people should avoid becoming strong, STRENGTH is a noble pursuit, but toughness? What is so great about that?
On the flip side young people must realize that some Boomers are coming from a place a wisdom. As a young person, when you talk with an otherwise intelligent old person who harbors beliefs and political attitudes that are different from your own you should deeply think those beliefs and only dismiss them after due consideration. Even intelligent old people can be wrong, but their beliefs always deserve due consideration because there is a good chance, they may also be right.
When it comes to generational relations, flippancy is the enemy, we should all, young and old, strive to be as empathetic and thoughtful in our relations with one-another as possible.