Sunday, October 23, 2005


A good friend of mine, a gentleman in his 80s, asked me to explain the motivations of the young people today. I answered that I don't believe there is a simple answer, but that each generation seems to have its own centerline -- something like this:

Your generation (my parents): Grew up in the Depression, fought and won WWII, built substantially the entire infrastructure of contemporary American society. Went to college on the GI Bill, built great communities in the suburbs, and made sure their kids made it to college. Sent my generation off to Vietnam, a badly run war, which I think played a role in causing the 'generation gap' -- where folks my age came to feel compelled and empowered to protest the policies of the government (and our parents).

My generation: The consumption generation. Our parents blessed us with all kinds of material things, and told us it was okay for both men and women to go to college and have careers. So we became dual career families with great houses and cars, but not much time with our kids. We let our kids engage in all kinds of extracurricular activities and wear ourselves out going to games and performances. We are around our kids more, but have less time to listen and build a deep relationship. Instead we gave them video games, MTV, computers and all that stuff. We Boomers consumed our way through the 80s and 90s, and our greed led eventually to Enron and Worldcom. We're gonna suffer when it comes our turn to retire because we've already spent our legacy.

My kids' generation: Are way less concerned about material stuff. The suburb may have seemed like a good thing to your generation and mine, but it is a lifeless, isolating, boring, blob of lawns to be mowed as far as our kids are concerned. As teenagers, they flocked to the malls to congregate, and we gave them cars when they were old enough so we didn't have to drive them around anymore (all those soccer games wore us out). As young adults, they seek amazing experiences, not material things (which they've had all their lives). They move into the urban centers (e.g. the Short North in Columbus) where there is much more variety than the suburbs. They go off to see the world, not as tourists but as explorers. They seek meaning in human encounters and in service, not in material things. If we keep sending them off to Iraq without any clear results, it will cause the same kind of disenfranchisement that our generation felt over Vietnam. If that happens, the kids will feel compelled to drive change at a pace none of us will find comfortable.

Maybe that's a good thing.

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