Friday, April 25, 2008

Rebuilding Lake Wobegon

Recently, I heard radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt interview Morley Winograd and Michael D. Hais about their book “Millennial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube, and the Future of American Politics”. As Winograd and Hais outlined distinctive differences between the Millennial Generation and the Baby Boom Generation, my fellow Baby Boomer’s (Hewitt’s) reaction was to repeatedly say “Omigosh!”

Not long before I heard Hewitt’s interview, another fellow Baby Boomer directed me to the CBS News Website for a Morley Safer 60 Minutes segment entitled “The ‘Millennials’ Are Coming”. Maybe it’s the result of this Morley coming from the Silent Generation (a step closer to being from the GI Generation - aka The Greatest Generation), that led to him mostly just having his mouth gaping open, unable even to utter the expression “Omigosh!”, as he listened to emerging “experts” detail strategies for how to appropriately deal with the unconventional behavior of Millennials.

I think the most ridiculous reaction I’ve heard on this came from the authors of "Millennial Makeover: MySpace, You Tube, and the Future of American Politics”, themselves, when they likened the differences between Boomers and Millennials to the differences between Moses’ Generation and Joshua’s Generation. The authors’ assertion is that Boomers and Moses’ Generation were/are idealists while Millennials and Joshua’s Generation were/are civic-minded. Not only is this ridiculous, it’s Biblically inaccurate.

Though I do find these reactions to be ridiculous, that’s not to say that they’re not natural. In fact, they don’t seem to be that different from the reactions that my generation, the Baby Boomers, received from the GI Generation in the 60s and 70s.

When Hewitt posed the question, “What do they want?”, the Winograd/Hais answers were, “Wonderful family life…life that is filled with the riches of interpersonal relationships, and that has enough income so that they aren’t pressured enough on the income side … They want to leave America in better condition than they found it.” That’s not something that makes me want to say “Omigosh!” It makes me want to say “Amen Brother!”

When Morley Safer asked Wall Street Journal Columnist, Jeffrey Zaslow, who to “blame” for Millennials being such “narcissistic praise hounds”, he points to TV’s Mister Rogers and says, “He was telling his preschoolers, 'You're special. You're special.' And he meant well. But we, as parents, ran with it. And we said, 'You, Junior, are special, and you're special and you're special and you're special.' And for doing what? We didn't really explain that." Zaslow may be right but, to me, it all sounded a bit familiar. Aren’t we, the Baby Boom Generation, the ones who fell in love with Garrison Keillor telling us about Lake Wobegon, “Where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average”?

Since the Millennials … aka Generation Y … aka the Echo Boomers … are the largest generation in American history ... approximately 1 million more than the Baby Boomers … of course, they are a serious force to be reckoned with. But, hyperventilating while repeating the expression “Omigosh!” doesn’t seem appropriate. In fact, that sort of reaction will most likely result in widening the chasm between the Millennial Generation and its predecessors. And, by the way, there are reactions in the opposite direction that are just as counterproductive. When a Millennial sees a 60-year-old face; assumes that this is a person who can’t grasp the concept of Social Networking, Blogging, Wikis, RSS, Twitter, etc. and deals with that person based on that assumption; that widens the chasm too. What is needed is for both generations to recognize how much they have to offer each other and if the chasm must remain, at least to build a bridge across it.

From my perspective, the greatest value Baby Boomers have to offer Millennials is what I call “A Great Wealth of Wisdom.” My generation was lavished, more than any other, with education. Moreover, we were raised by the GI Generation, who instilled us with a great work ethic. That meant, not only did we get a great education, we actually went out and tried to accomplish everything we could with that resource and in the process, grew the resource by honing it with experience to create … “A Great Wealth of Wisdom.” Sadly, though, if we don’t find a way to transfer this “Great Wealth”, IT WILL DIE WITH US!

But, wait a minute! Doesn’t this “Great Wealth” sound like just the right resource for Millennials to add to what they already have, to attain what Winograd and Hais say they want? – i.e. “Wonderful family life…life that is filled with the riches of interpersonal relationships, and that has enough income so that they aren’t pressured enough on the income side … They want to leave America in better condition than they found it.” And, didn’t I say that hearing this makes me want to say, “Amen Brother!”? I did and when my fellow Baby Boomers get the chance to consider this, without the hyperbole added by those promoting their newly formed cultural consulting companies or their books or their radio shows or their TV programs, I believe the majority will react as I did. That, in fact, means that both generations want the same thing – i.e “…to leave America in better condition than (we) found it.” Getting this done will require us to proactively connect instead of reactively separating. I say, “What are we waiting for?!” When you consider that connecting these generations results in forming a team made up of people who are all “special” and “above average”, there’s no reason for us not to attain this goal that we owe the future of the nation that we’re blessed to live in.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

McCain & His “Kind”

In the 40 years, since the death of MLK Jr., our nation has come a long way towards realizing his “ … dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Fittingly, Dr. King focused on “the color of their skin”, in his historic “I Have A Dream” speech. However, he could have just as easily left out the words “the color of” and have made the same point, in general. I’m sure Dr. King would have agreed, its wrong to judge others by any quality of their skin. As an example, isn’t it wrong to judge others by the shape of their skin - i.e by their gender? Of course it is! Thankfully, we’ve come a long way on that matter in the past 40 years too. Why then does it seem to still be so OK in the U.S. to judge others by another quality of their skin … the age of their skin?

With the Late Night Talk Shows, on Comedy Central, and in numerous other venues, it seems to be perfectly acceptable to repeatedly speak of the Republican Presidential Candidate, Senator John McCain, as being “really old.” Thankfully, this genuine national hero is also a gracious man. Rather than bewailing this treatment, McCain good-naturedly pokes fun at himself on this issue, saying that he’s “older than dirt” and has “more scars than Frankenstein.” But, whether its dealt with good-naturedly or not, isn’t it wrong that it has to be dealt with at all? Can you imagine the tumult that would ensue if Letterman “joked” about the color of Barack Obama’s skin or if The Daily Show “teased” Hillary Clinton about some physical female trait?! If either of those things happened once, let alone nightly, the uproar would be overwhelming. In fact, Obama and Clinton wouldn’t have to deal with it themselves. The tumult and the uproar would address the matter for them. So why does John McCain find himself having to address the constant insinuations about his age? Where is the tumult and the uproar?

The sad truth about this is that it’s a fact of life for McCain & His “Kind”. I know. Although I’m younger than Senator McCain by more than a decade, I’m not running for U.S. President, etc., I consider myself to be included in that “Kind”. I, daily, deal with the growing prejudice our culture seems to have towards anyone who admits to remembering a time when they didn’t have a cell phone or an email address. I suspect each of McCain’s “Kind” have their own story, in this regard. My story, along these lines, is one that’s unfolded during the past three years, since we decided to relocate our home from one part of the country to another. Of course, with an endeavor like this, not everything goes as planned. For us, the key element of our plan that hasn’t gone as expected is that I haven’t been able to secure the kind of job we had in mind for me – i.e. A job in my chosen field, where I have 25 years of successful experience. Certainly, there’s more than one reason for this. But, to my great surprise, my age has been a significant factor. Candidly, as a Hiring Manager myself, I think there are some legitimate considerations to make along these lines. If a job requires a certain level of energy, I think its legitimate to consider if a person is experienced or if they’re worn out. However, when a Hiring Manager sees a candidate’s face across the table that’s a decade or two (or even three) older than their’s, its simply wrong to make assumptions about their energy or their ability to keep up with technology or their aspirations or their values or whatever, without actually getting to know more about the candidate than the fact that they have an older face … that is to say, judging them by the age of their skin.

When you stop and think about it, we, the U.S. Voters, are the Hiring Managers for our next President. With this, there are many serious considerations we should reasonably be making. Among my hopes is that, beginning with this election, we will no longer include any considerations of any quality of their skin … neither its color nor its shape nor its age.