How can you feel confined when you’re in touch with the universe?
Finally, Generation X is getting its due. During this COVID-19 crisis when we are all being told to shelter-in-place, the memes about our abilities to make our own snacks and entertain ourselves for hours-on-end abound. Which is great, because we are a generation that loves humor. And irony. And, especially, ironically funny ideas.
But underneath the images from Reality Bites and talk of “expert slacking,” is a deeper acknowledgement of a style of navigating the world that just might be the form of leadership we need the most right now.
As children of the 70s & 80s, we grew up in a pivotal moment in our culture when the public narrative made a 180° shift from social consciousness to valuing the lifestyles of the rich and famous more.
It was jarring and perplexing and it exposed a core hypocrisy in the American story that was hard to take. That wasn’t a new disconnect, but our generation was exposed to it very early in our formative years through mass media in stark and explicit ways. Entertainment and advertising (our dominant public storytelling channels) no longer elevated human emotions that joined us together to influence behavior and sell products (buying the world a Coke and all…). Instead, the message clearly focused on survival and advancement – and mostly at the cost of others, including the planet (where did JR’s family get all their money and power from anyway?).
Generation X is also known at the “latchkey” generation because we were on our own so much of the time. We didn’t have too much external guidance on how to navigate the changing times – times that tested morality as much as they did our stamina to survive a “winner takes all” competitive culture. So, we did our best with what we had – but we never stopped caring about the underlying purpose behind it all. Because that does matter to those of us who learned to read along with social values from Sesame Street.
It may be hard to fathom, but Gen-Xers are inherently idealists. We genuinely believe there is a way for everyone to thrive without exploiting each other or the world. We know, deep down, that with creativity and compassion anything is possible. That’s the heart of the ideals of democracy in action and “abundance thinking” in its truest forms. And don’t make fun of us for believing in it either, you jerk – we’ll call you right out on that. That’s the thing. We get devastated when we see all of the disconnects and missed opportunities to MacGyver it all together in a way that will save the day – with a Swiss Army knife and without a gun.
See, Gen-Xers aren’t slackers because we don’t care – it’s quite the opposite. If anything, we care too much and that creates an illusion of paralysis. We need time to process the confusing way our culture says one thing and does another. We need focus to think of a work-around that will remove barriers and make it easier for everyone.
So, now we are in a moment where we all have to slow down, whether we like it or not. We are left alone (or with our small circle of friends – now families) to figure it out and get along. What if all of that time spent “slacking” has really now prepared a new generation of leaders to share a different way of achieving “success?” Doing-It-Yourself takes a lot of confidence and dedication. Letting things unfold with least effort takes trust. Ultimately, though, this style takes faith in something bigger than ourselves. Collective Spirit, Art, God, whatever you choose is fine by us, but we know it’s there to hold us together, not separate us into boxes. We know we’ll be alright because we can figure out how to get out of boxes on our own (who has a paperclip?). . .
. . . but we are also here to share our vision of a world where anything is possible – made real through scrappy skills – with everyone else.