Of Generations and False Categories

Sometimes, we write original, thought provoking pieces. This is not one of those times.

In spite of the relatively fluid categories of, well, everything, these days, grouping people by when they were born has been surprisingly resilient. These rough-sketched batches of birthdates get treated as hard and fast strata permitting no social mobility. It makes some demographic sense, but complex people must be grossly simplified to fit on such tidy columns. Common ground comes in many parcels–an 80 year-old and 30 year-old from the same town probably share more than two 50 year-olds from different countries (or different corners of the same country). This is to say nothing of temperament, beliefs, education, income, and dozens of other facts that unite and divide us.

So, who cares? I’ve always been a bit sensitive to the “generational” thing, consistently being called a Millennial when I see so little of myself (or my wife, or our close friends) in popular characterization of these up and comers. Some of the brushstrokes fit, some don’t. We have kids, we own a home (or at least “share” one with the bank), we put family before career but still show up on time and work hard at jobs we’re very glad to have in tough economic times, we use technology readily but prefer unplugged time, we put politics on the back burner and following God (in belief and in practice) up front, etc.

Apparently, I’m not alone in this assessment, as one wit has dubbed us early-80s kids the “Oregon Trail Generation” in an attempt to push back against the (mostly) negative picture of Millennials pumped in the wider culture. Even that, though, categorizes people across too broad a spectrum, assuming a great deal about a great many to grasp a shared recognition.

The flaws and gaps in facile generational clusters expose problems with group identities across the board. Calling people Millennials, Gen-Xers, Boomers, etc. doesn’t help you know them, it gives you an epithet to write off their needs or their contributions to your life. Race works in much the same way, as does political affiliation, and a number of other assumed postures. On paper, autonomous individualism is expanding its cultural and legal purchase, yet humans can’t resist the countless tiny nationalisms that allow us to form community power structures and wage war on other groups.

Next time you feel your back bristle at being pinned according to some label or other, let it spur you to resist the same temptation. At the end of the day, there is one distinction that matters: sheep or goat. If you forgo relationships and conversations with people you’ve stamped with other names (or whose own chosen tribal tattoos show with undue pride), you’ll never be able to know how much the Lord loves you both and wants you both to be with Him among the saints.


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