Why are we so blind to other people’s experience of life? I mean basically that’s all that divides one generation from the other – the things they did or didn’t experience. During a conversation after dinner about Baby Boomers and Millennials one night, I found myself defending the younger generations against the expectations of the old – trying to get them to see through each other’s eyes.
It was strange as I got older to realise that, with my university education and single parenthood, I was in no way a typical Baby Boomer. While I was going to social anthro lectures and trying to figure out who I ‘was’, most of my contemporaries were starting their home ownership accounts, stocking up their glory boxes with household linens and indulging in dating practices that would almost inevitably lead to marriage, a section and having their first child by the age of 20.
They expected to slowly accumulate. At work they would need to rise steadily through layers of seniority or bureaucracy. At home they would acquire, first the land, then the bare bones of a house and then gradually, the symbols of comfort and achievement.
It didn’t quite work out that way. While not facing the depression and world wars their parents and grandparents had faced, life did speed up for those baby boomers – their horizons widened, their options expanded and the disruptions of divorce and redundancy shattered the cosy but dull paradise they had envisaged. There was no gold watch after 40 years of continuous service, but they did get MySKY and winter trips to the Gold Coast.
What’s the Kiwi dream for a Millennial? What do they expect? Certainly not slow accumulation. They expect to ride the ebbs and flows of a fast-paced life, living from moment to golden moment with enough resource to bridge the gap.
Their expectations are revealed in the quotes they like on Tumblr: to be all you can be, do what you love; to get out there and live the dream. To get your piece of what the world has to offer and to find the configuration that fits you best. And to get it NOW, because nothing lasts unless you deliberately slow it down.
To achieve this you use what resources are available to you: the education you had to pay for, your network of relationships, whatever wealth and comforts your family has accumulated for your use, the smarts you have acquired in the school of life and the skills you have as a child of the information age.
It’s scary but you do your best to make it happen, maybe impatient with the slow-moving know-it-alls of the older generation, who can’t see the difference between their brief youthful flowering and your continuous need to upgrade and reinvent.
If you stop to think about it you begin to resent their almost unconscious sense of entitlement to use up all the planet’s resources, drive up the cost of living and assume superiority on the basis of now-tarnished or obsolete experience. But hey – it is what it is.
Whatever their age, my friends and I agree, life’s a spiral not a circle – things don’t repeat, they evolve. Focusing on differences obscures the enormous adaptability of the average human to whatever havoc or opportunity presents itself.
But ignoring the differences between our situations is problematic. The only question that works is: What would you do if you [had] walked in my shoes?
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