This week’s Courier Herald column:
It was last fall, and we had extra time to get to the
Georgia game before kickoff. I decided
to take the “long way” into Athens, in order to show my high-school aged niece
more of the town that she was beginning to consider for college.
I wanted to show her some of the places that were significant
to our family, as my paternal grandmother grew up in downtown Athens, just
about a mile from campus. I also wanted
to demonstrate how things have changed over time. While avoiding the bypass and working our way
down Atlanta highway, I pointed to the left of the car.
“There’s the mall…though I’m not sure how often you’ll come
out here.” I knew, after all, that malls
aren’t a thing anymore for Generation Z. People aren’t going to malls as much as we once
Those of us in Generation X can remember going to the mall
just to hang out. There’s an entire
genre of 80’s movies where the mall was practically a character in the
It was her answer, however, that was the real reality
check. “Oh…I went to a mall once with my
mom. I can’t remember which one.” Things have indeed changed. That answer let me know I wasn’t prepared for
how much they have.
There are generational divides, and they are real. What appears to be different today is that the
pace of change is faster, and is also rapidly accelerating. Us “old folks” need to understand this if we’re
going to relate to those significantly younger than us.
The generation before us expected to work for the same
employer for thirty or so years, retire with a gold watch, and enjoy a defined
benefit pension for the remainder of their life. My generation was told to expect multiple
different jobs, but use self-discipline to accumulate home equity and a healthy
401K balance in order to prepare for retirement.
Millennials have watched older folks live off of home equity
for instant gratification, blow up the housing market with speculation, and under-invest
to the point where half of the country can’t pay for a $400 emergency. They were then asked to work multiple unpaid
internships before getting a paying job while trying to figure out how to pay
off student loans.
I’m still not sure what Gen-Z is observing, because I can’t
get most of them to look away from their phone screens long enough to
articulate a position. Yet, I and we
must try. They’re not just the future,
but a big part of the present.
There are now more millennials than living baby
boomers. They’re replacing us older
folks in the workforce, in politics, and their influence is dominating social
norms. They don’t take kindly to
directives, especially from generations they too often find selfish or inept, and
telling them “that’s just the way it is” will generate ridicule and scorn.
Us older folks have accumulated experience and hopefully
some of us have converted that into wisdom.
Too often attempts to share that with the young folks comes across as
misplaced nostalgia, or even worse, lectures. It is frequently because we don’t
understand where they are, because like trips to the mall, we lack shared
experiences to make our points with anecdotes from the past.
Whether those of us in the older generations like it or not,
our days are closer to sunset than sunrise.
The world is changing, and it will be the young people that continue to
tailor the world around them as they see it.
Our opportunities to change the world are now by influencing those
younger than us.
Too many from the older generations have decided that
younger folks are “wrong”, and thus choose to ignore them. We do this at our own peril. There must be dialogue, but it must be from a
place that our younger folks find relatable.
Chances are, these conversations won’t take place at the
mall. Instead, we need to start by
looking for some common ground.