I recently attended a retreat on how to communicate effectively across four generations. Because people are living longer than ever, it is not uncommon to find four generations in the work place. The four generations are the Traditionalists, the Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the Millennials. The cause of fundamental differences in values and worldviews across the generations is the cultural and historical context of life experiences.
The Traditionalists, for example, are influenced by the Great Depression, World War II, the Cold War, Korean War, and the suburban sprawl. Baby Boomers, on the other hand, were shaped by Watergate, women’s rights, JFK’s assassination, the Civil Rights Movement, and Vietnam. The big influencers on Generation X were MTV, AIDS, the Gulf War, the 1987 Stock Market Crash, and the fall of Communism. And then we arrive at the Millenials, who are influenced by the Internet, Social Media, and 9/11.
In the retreat, we spent a number of hours understanding what makes each generation tick and why. We also considered the core values of each generation that results from their life experiences.
For example, Traditionalists value sacrifice, loyalty, discipline, and respect for authority. Baby Boomers are competitive and work long hours. Generation X is self-reliant, eclectic, free agents and value a balance between work and life. Millenials are defined by immediacy, community service, cyberliteracy, tolerance, diversity, and confidence.
Yes, this is a huge and diverse spectrum! One would be extremely hard pressed to find a time in history when the generations are so different from one other in values and worldview. Not only that, but because of medical technology, we’re all living at the same time! It is absolutely crazy that there were members of in my work group at the retreat who were old enough to be my grandfather!
The great disparity that characterizes this context makes working together beyond difficult. In fact, it’s nuclear. It’s really really hard to be kind in some situations, let alone effective and productive. The big question, then, is “how do we all work together and glorify God?”
The retreat facilitator (who was great) inundated us with information to help us answer this question. At the end of the day, however, my takeaway was, “Just relax”. I know it sounds flippant and shallow, but that doesn’t make it not true!
We are living in a time when everyone is so passionately different from one another, which puts us all on edge. Society is frustrated and angry. The left is yelling at the right, and the feminists are yelling at everyone. Every group between blue and red are calling fouls, throwing flags, and screaming “YOU HYPOCRITS!”
Everyone, please just relax. Christians, in the name of Jesus, please just relax. It’s going to be okay.
How do we do this? What can help us calm down a bit?
First, keep in mind that you can’t change people. Just ask anyone who has ever been married. It’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change people, not yours (you especially can’t change people through Facebook). And if you’re sober and honest in your introspection, you know that if the Holy Spirit can change you, then he can change anybody. Pray and leave it to him, he knows what he’s doing.
Second, at the risk of sounding postmodern, let me say that we have to remember that everyone comes from a particular history and culture. There is a reason why people are the way they are. As a Generation Xer, it really helps me to calm down with working with Boomers when I remember that they lived in a buy now, pay later era (as an Xer, I am cautious and conservative; save, save, save). Understanding why people are the way they are really takes the edge off.
Finally, the challenge that this particular context presents is an opportunity for growth. It is in the context of difficulty that we become better people.
Paul says, “…we rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has gen us” (Romans 5:3–5).
Thank you, Jesus, for Millenials! There are helping us all grow!