There are a lot of differences between Millennials and older generations. But one thing we do have in common is that each generation is frustrated by the other. Older generations think Millennials can be idealistic, self-centered, and lazy. Millennials see older generations as stuck in their ways and close-minded.
Creating Common Ground Between Generations
But I don’t think it’s our different beliefs or approaches to life that are the biggest threat to creating common ground between generations.
What generational issue concerns me most?
It’s that both generations are guilty of damaging relationships when we assume the intentions of the other generation and automatically stereotype those close to us based on the things they say.
We’re All Guilty of Assuming Intentions
I once heard a story of a Millennial who went to visit his parents for the weekend. During dinner, his dad kept talking about the “oriental” neighbor next door. “Our oriental neighbor has been planting some new flowers… Our oriental neighbor goes out at 6 a.m. every morning to get his mail…”
After a few minutes, the son couldn’t take it anymore. He exploded, “Dad, how racist can you be? You shouldn’t call people oriental. They are Vietnamese. I can’t believe you’re so close-minded.”
The dad stopped.
Shocked, he humbly responded, “Well I guess I’ll think about that when I take my Vietnamese neighbor to his doctor’s appointment tomorrow.”
The reality was that the dad was not racist. His son assumed the worst, thinking his dad was just another uncultured older person who didn’t see the value in people of different ethnicities. He assumed the intentions behind what his dad was saying and stereotyped him as being racist. But nothing could be further from the truth.
The same can be said for older generations who bash Millennials for wanting work-life balance. They hear Millennials talking about wanting more freedom and flexibility to spend time with family and assume they are lazy. “These young people just don’t want to work hard.”
And yet, there’s not a single older person who doesn’t look back and wish they would have spent more time with their family instead of at work. At the moment, the older generation stereotypes Millennials as lazy, they fail to recognize that the way Millennials think about “providing” for their family might look differently because of the way Millennials value relationships, interaction, and community.
Overcoming Our Gut Instinct to Assume the Worst
So how do we keep from automatically stereotyping other generations and assuming the intentions behind their words or actions? It might not come naturally, but here are a few steps we can begin taking:
- Don’t be so quick to judge. Rather than assuming the worst, take a moment to consider the other person’s perspective. If they are saying something that sounds racist, is it because they genuinely don’t know any better? Pausing and asking why before we automatically assign intent is an incredibly valuable way to avoid creating more damage with a hurtful response. And if you’re not sure why, don’t be afraid to ask clarifying questions.
- Recognize the flaws in your thinking. The reality is that everyone is flawed in their thinking. We all have thoughts we wish we didn’t have. We’ve all made mistakes. When we pause and remember that we’re just as flawed as the other person, we can be a lot more forgiving of their mistakes.
- Avoid the temptation to talk “down” to the other person. One of the reasons I think our society has been damaged by the extreme stances represented on social media is because of the way we talk to or about others. We speak “down” about anyone who has a different opinion about certain ideological issues. Ever wonder why it seems like two extreme views keep “missing each other” on the important news topics (political, social, etc.)? Most times it’s because both parties are talking down to each other — rather than trying to communicate from a posture of humility and equality.
Here’s the Reality We Would All be Better Off Acknowledging
The reality is that Millennials aren’t the only “woke” generation. And older generations aren’t the only “wise” generation.
Creating common ground starts by recognizing those moments when we begin to assume the worst about one another and assign intentions to their words. True unity (between generations, political parties, races, socio-economic levels, etc.) begins when the first person decides to step down from their high horse and engage another person with humility.
Who’s with me?