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Stimulate Sustainability By Closing the Generational Gap


By Anum Yoon

A desire for easy answers and a penchant for oversimplified generalizations: Contributors to the generational gap or roadblocks to the sustainability movement?

Both, in fact.

Much of the shortsighted, flawed thinking that helps maintain the generational gap also works to hinder the sustainability movement.

The big picture

No one can deny that there is a need for a big picture. The sustainability movement is still in the process of searching for a clear vision of the future. In order to motivate individuals, groups and corporations to large-scale change, there needs to be a clear picture not only of why we need a sustainable system, but also what such a system would look like.

Unfortunately, a desire for a big picture can also result in dangerously narrow definitions that fail to reflect the larger reality. Such is one of the main issues of the generational gap.

People long to understand each other. People also long for shortcuts to understanding each other. Each attempt to cultivate a list of defining characteristics for the generations – baby boomers, Generation X, millennials – is another misguided endeavor to find a relational shortcut.

The problem with these lists is that they inevitably create a restrictive box that reduces each generation to a handful of traits. We know from attempts to generalize people by gender, astrological signs, Myers-Briggs personality types, hair color, skin color, eating habits or any other arbitrary marker that the resulting stereotypes actually prevent us from understanding one another, instead of aiding understanding.

Why bridge the gap?

That perhaps begs the question: Do the generations need to understand each other?

Yes and no.

Yes, there needs to be a measure of understanding across the generations. This understanding is needed for the simplest of reasons: cooperation. In order to find a working, successful solution to any issue, a measure of cooperation is needed. The older generation needs to respect the fresh ideas of the younger. The younger generation needs to respect the life experiences of the older.

We need a measure of understanding because the different values and characteristics of each generation are needed to provide a diversity of perspectives that will facilitate greater problem-solving.

However, understanding the generations is not necessary. This is because creating generational boxes and attempting to define each generation by the ways it is different from or incomprehensible to another generation is unhealthy and unproductive. It reinforces the idea that uncontrollable factors – like when a person is born – create insurmountable differences between people.

These boxes create the harmful illusion that every member of a generation is the same. All millennials are entitled or all boomers are technologically challenged. The truth is that every individual is unique. Attempting to understand an individual by applying generational stereotypes only ensures a failure to understand that individual.

It is individuals, not stereotypes, that need to work together – bridging the generational gap – to create a sustainable future.

Small steps

Small steps can make a big impact on both the generational gap and sustainability movement.

The generational gap will only be bridged through individual relationships. Rather than shaking heads over differences from a distance, individuals of all generations need to put effort into expanding their social circles. Millennials should visit their grandparents or volunteer at nursing homes. Boomers should reach out to their grandchildren or find ways to mentor and encourage millennials.

Getting to know members of other generations will encourage open minds and greater cooperation. Comments or suggestions from a member of one generation will no longer be heard as a statement representative of an entire generation, but rather be heard as the suggestion of an individual speaking from his or her unique experience.

Large-scale change and long-term solutions are needed both for bridging the generational gap and the success of the sustainability movement. While everyday choices and individual relationships will go a long way toward improving both issues, the generation gap must be dismantled in order for sustainability to have a fighting chance. Let's stimulate sustainability by closing the generational gap and collectively strive towards a better future.

Image credits: Unsplash - Calvin Chin

Anum Yoon is a writer who is passionate about personal finance and sustainability. As a regular contributor to the Presidio Graduate School’s blog, she often looks for ways she can incorporate money management with environmental awareness. You can read her updates on Current on Currency.

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