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Generations at War

The last time I heard the term, “Generation Gap” was in reference to the 1960s. The explosion of personal expression through music, fashion, style, language and a shift in values were so far removed from the experience of the “silent generation” that raised the “baby boomers” that it created a chasm in understanding between the two generations. Our parents were “square”. We were “cool”. They stayed silent. We spoke out. 

  Is the generation gap back, or is there something more sinister going on?  Let’s explore.  There’s a story behind every generation’s experience of life, from trauma to joy, disappointment to unimagined leaps forward, failures and successes. Yet, this seems to be lost in the echo chambers of social media. 

   According to my Twitter feed, those of us born between 1946 -64 are getting pelted with rocks for raping the planet and triggering the climate crisis, pillaging the job market, saddling our children’s generation with debt and making it impossible for them to buy a home.  They are angry with us because, allegedly, we never had it so good and they aren’t going to do as well. 

 We had free university education, access to apprenticeships, a steady climb up the career ladder all the while garnering prosperity and personal freedoms. I experienced little of the daily grind my mother endured to keep the house running and the family fed and clothed. With labour-saving gadgets and packet foods, I had time to pursue a career and raise children.

   If today’s media are to be believed we are in the middle of an incendiary generation war because we are out of touch with the digital generations and are trying to impose a structure and set of values on them that are no longer viable. We criticise them for being lazy, self- indulgent and narcissistic. Messages such as hard work brings rewards (we need to rethink that myth), stay loyal to one company and they will be loyal to you, (not with zero-hour contracts), marry and settle down (with what money?), are no longer relevant in this fast-moving world. 

 Since the financial crash of 2008 it’s been much harder to start out on the road to adulthood than it was in our time although that being said, there were challenging events during the 70s – The Winter of Discontent, recession, oil crisis, high unemployment, inflation,  15% interest rates and the threat of nuclear war was never far away. And, the Beatles disbanded! 

   Historical facts get lost and distorted in the retelling, and with the current wave of fake news disseminated by social media it’s become impossible to have rational conversations without getting het up. It’s not surprising that the Millennials are angry with us. They feel misunderstood by a generation that is out of touch, but hasn’t that always been the case?

   To improve intergenerational understanding we need to communicate, clearly, honestly and frequently and refrain from using labels as put-downs – snowflake, boomer, and zoomer.   This means sitting down calmly without an agenda and asking the right questions, actively listening and not pumping out advice beginning with “Well in my day…” 

  Like every generation before us, we wanted our own children to do better than us and that’s natural but we made the mistake of overpromising over protecting. Helicopter parenting has entered the lexicon as something negative and destructive to the self-esteem and mental health of our children. They’ve been cajoled, threatened and even bribed to work hard and do better than their peers. Achieve, achieve, achieve. I never heard these words from my parents. They didn’t know the first thing about universities.

 But, there’s been a huge price to pay for this constant pressure. In the USA, three quarters of millennials have had to leave a job because of mental illness. On both sides of the pond, there had been a dramatic rise in depression, anxiety and suicide as well as a rise in alcoholism and suicide. 

 When I started my professional life, I had a secretary to look after my administration. Nowadays, employees are expected to do their own, thus adding to their workload. So many are suffering from burnout from long hours and lengthy commutes. Minimum wage, rents on a tiny flat or house share, poor diets, lack of sleep, rise of mobile phones, social media, loneliness, rapid changes, insecurity, and a sense of hopelessness is destroying the lives of the generation in whom we’d placed so much faith. Because they struggle under these unrealistic pressures, they are condemned for being weak. We need to cut them some slack.
   On a personal note, I made sure my daughters knew that it was going to be tough out in the work place and skilled them up to be resilient and accept failure. It was the best gift I could have given them. 

 Looking back, people I knew worked for companies who looked after them, thus engendering loyalty and commitment on both sides. Companies like Cadbury, which was one of my key clients for many years, provided training, continuing education, social activities and good housing. Employees felt they belonged and were happy. 

 How many millennials can say this? Even when they enter graduate trainee schemes with blue chip companies, they are driven to exhaustion either because of the hours they need to work or because of fear of losing their job because of poor performance. They are in effect slaves to the share-holders. I know of several smart, generous, good young men and women – doctors, solicitors, teachers who took their own lives because they couldn’t see a way out. 

 So, what can we, the wise elders do to help? I have four simple suggestions.

  1. Mentor a young person. Help them to cut a path to where they would like to be while managing expectations. Tell stories about your own difficulties and how you reached your goals. Collude in a blog, book, or writing competition. 
  2. Treat them as assets and not a nuisance. Think about what they can teach you. 
  3. Include them. Value their ideas. Mix with them socially rather than sticking with your own tribe. Reassure them that things do pass and new opportunities will arise providing they look out for their health. 
  4. Take their worries seriously. Depression and anxiety are real issues. It’s not helpful to say people had it worse during the war. They are at war. Not with us but with themselves.

 Wishing you all a peaceful 2020. 

Angelena Boden

www.angelenaboden.com

 

 

    

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The Old Fashioned Way

 

  Helen poked her head out of the back door and held out her hand to test for rain. The dahlias in her back garden nodded their bronze and yellow heads in the September breeze and looked so gorgeous she made a note to photograph and email them to her daughter, Sheena.

  The chiming of the church clock   reminded Helen she was going to be late for her computer class if she didn’t hurry. Pulling on her jacket, she looked round for her bag and slipped out into the light drizzle to walk the mile into town.

 With the dramatic Malvern Hills behind her, the range of summer greens slowly turning to the colour of bracken and copper, Helen walked carefully down the steep slope, grabbing the handrail whenever a stab of pain shot through her knee. The doctor had said swimming would help strengthen the muscles but at her age she didn’t relish getting into a swimming costume to show off wobbly thighs.

  It was difficult to miss the sign for Silver Surfers in the church hall belonging to the ancient Priory. As Helen followed the arrows she felt a queasy feeling in the pit of her stomach. Sheena had taught her how to email and to attach documents and photographs and from time to time she searched for interesting bits of family history but that was as far as her knowledge went.

  The room quickly filled up with people chatting over refreshments as Helen stood by the door watching them nod and laugh and wave to people they knew. Some smiled as they inched past her to find their places.  A row of white laptops blinked patiently, as eager fingers flexed over keyboards in readiness for the lesson.

  ‘Hello, I’m Ray, the tutor. You are?’

  ‘Helen Watterson. I’m new.’

  ‘Welcome. Have you had much experience of technology?’

  Helen explained her limits, explaining that she’d like to be able to write a short book of family history for her daughters. ‘Sheena keeps telling me to go on Skype but I don’t know what she means.’

 ‘What about business transactions? That’s what we’re doing today.’

 Helen frowned and hitched her bag back onto her shoulder as she tried to make sense of what he meant.

‘Online banking, paying bills, buying things?’ He glanced surreptitiously at the clock.

‘Oh not banking. You hear terrible stories of hi jacking.’

 Ray smiled and guided her to a seat between Martin and Joy telling her not to worry. Martin offered her a mint while Joy fetched her a glass of water.

 ‘We will help you if you get stuck. If we don’t get with the technology we’ll get left behind,’ she laughed. ‘See John over there? He’s eighty-four and is a whizz on the keyboard.’

 Helen ran her tongue over her dry lips and took off her jacket as a trickle of sweat formed on her brow. A notebook at the ready, she focused on the overhead screen and tried to follow Ray’s instructions.  Martin leant over and showed her where to click the cursor.

  By the end of the session, Helen felt exhausted and tearful. Why had life become so complicated? What was wrong with the old fashioned way of going into the bank and having a chat with the clerk?  Only yesterday had she gone into the branch at the top of Church Road and explained about her card being spat out by the hole in the wall.  

  ‘Some of us are going down to the theatre for a coffee? Would you like to come?’ Helen was about to say she had things to do but Joy’s inquisitive eyes were also kind so she nodded, relieved to have a break from her empty house.

  Over drinks she admitted that the class had scared her so much she didn’t think she’d go again.

‘Ray’s a good teacher but I’m not fast enough.’

‘That’s how we all felt at first. I was forced to go online as they say because my family live in Canada now. It means I can see my grandchildren playing and chat to them. They show me their homework and… well the pain was worth it.’ Martin, broke off a bit of his large cookie and gave it to Helen. ‘Cheer up. We’re a friendly gang and we’ll help.’

 They chatted about their families and how hard it was to be away from them. By the time they said their goodbyes, Helen had to admit that the internet could be a lifesaver.

 The walk back up the hill to  Rose Cottage,  past the art gallery and the little bookshop, seemed less of a drag as she thought about the new friends she’d made. They’d even invited her to join their music appreciation class.

 As Helen turned the key in the door, she caught sight of the postman trundling his trolley along her lane. She waited to see if he had any bills or more junk mail for her recycling bin.

 ‘Your garden’s looking lovely,’ he said, rooting through his bundle.

 ‘Thank you. It’s a bit of a struggle because of the slope,’ she laughed, patting down her hair as the wind tugged strands from its band.

 ‘A letter for you today.’

 Helen felt the smooth, creamy envelope between her fingers and frowned. The writing sloped to the right and was like the flowing copperplate that she had once learned at school.

 She took it into her sunny living room and looked out over the common where dog walkers stopped to chat. Malvern was such a beautiful place to live even now Jack had gone. Digging through a drawer of her bureau she found his silver paper knife  and slid it carefully under the flap, wondering who on earth it could be from.

 Dear Mum, You said you would love to receive a letter in the old fashioned way so here it is. ….

 


 

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