Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Generational Divide

In whatever position of authority I have attained, I've often felt like the token young adult. I have always been precocious and serious, a quality that was recognized in me at a very young age. As a child, I kept company mostly with adults. A few months from turning 33, I finally feel a sense of perspective and the passage of time in a way I never did before. It is the first taste of impending middle age.

Though I am still young, I concede, I am beginning to recognize now how quickly one's lifetime passes. We only have a finite amount of time on this Earth. Only hindsight can show us the proper perspective we seek in the present. It has only been in the recent past that I have been able to use life experience, enthusiasm, and a crusading spirit in tandem to guide me effectively. As many of us wish for ourselves, I have begun to come into my own and make a name for myself. 

When it comes to leadership roles, most of my associations and routine dealings are with people several years older than me. Most often, this does not present a problem for me or anyone else, but occasionally it does. Recently, I made an unorthodox decision, sharing online the results of committee deliberations, though I took care to not name names or provide many identifying details. It got me into hot water, but I stood firm. Anyone who wants to shake things up ought to expect to be challenged. 

This is a leadership and authority matter, but it is also reveals a sharp generational distinction. Those with whom I work alongside are usually my parents' age and they have a very different attitude towards information sharing. They're at times uncomfortable with how casual members of Generation X and Generation Y are in immediately opening up to total strangers. They often see such behavior as reckless or irresponsible and even wholly incomprehensible. In their way of thinking, one is not to air one's dirty laundry for any reason.  

The Baby Boomer mantra of live and let live is true to an extent, but sometimes it is possible to observe crevices and cracks in the foundation. They are a product of their environment and of their time, as we are a product of our own. The majority of baby boomers were raised in the conservative 1950's and, though they sought to cast it off completely with their own new way of doing things, their early life experience was highly formative. We cannot escape our upbringing entirely. Reconciling how we were raised with the new identity we've formed for ourselves is a life's work.

I don't mean to paint the distinction with too broad a brushstroke. Exceptions can always be found and there are no hard and fast rules. But I think it's a safe statement to state that later generations feel less of a need to keep things to themselves, in ways both good and bad. A new radical openness is on display today. The events of daily life, regardless of how ordinary they may be, seem to be confirmed as real only if they are first posted to Facebook. 

I've often viewed this approach in a more positive light than in a negative one. Every so often, a media-driven moral panic descends about the amount of personal information shared online by young people. I will concede that some folks, of every age, forget that nothing online is anonymous and that, once posted, it never goes away. I could dwell on the consequences, but I'd have to overlook the ways that being truthful and bravely trusting have enriched my life. 

To return from where I started, I've chosen to confront this topic because of recent events in my own life. In short, I made a decision to opt for sunshine rather than the cloakroom. A particular member of the committee, who is my father's age, asserted that I had overstepped my authority. 

If stealthy secrecy had been effective prior to the current day, we'd know it to be a policy worth continuing. The old way of doing things has, however, malfunctioned spectacularly. The situation demands reform. Past efforts did little but to kick the can down the road. In doing this we've opted for another unresolved deliberation in the future, one that continues the process of delay.

It may the fate of every generation to dig in and resist reform. In a few decades I may feel the same way myself. My elders have put together, for the most part, a mostly functioning framework. Sooner than later, leaders of government and leaders in every imaginable organization and group will take their own positions of authority, hoping to leave a mark. 

With their ascent will be a very different way of conducting business and exchanging ideas. What has never been functional must be cast aside to make way for the new. I wonder if my generation will hold fast to its radical honesty when it is our turn to call the shots.       

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