50 Shades of: “Hey! Where do I fit?”

For many, the age of digital understanding has been a wonderful advance. The connectivity, the sources of knowledge at our fingertips, it’s a smorgasbord of things to delight the senses. With all of these positive aspects, I wonder if this age of definitions has society focusing a little too much? Is there room for a little gray area in life without binary definition?

As humans, we like to deal with things that are concrete and knowable.
– The sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening.
– People age continuously.
– The volume of water in a warm bath will be displaced proportionally by the volume of person or bath toys placed in it.

These statements satisfy an innate urge for definition and structure. Our minds have adapted to contain so much knowledge that our streamlining any information into binary logic keeps more energy available to handle other needs. If we observe early cultures, learning what kinds of food were edible or poisonous was a very important way of using this logic in [yes/no], [good/bad], or [edible/poisonous]. Our advancement from basic survival brought us to a new age where binary logic cannot contain the full parameters of all situations.

This discussion is a long way of saying two things: “Of what can we be certain?” and “Are the defining lines between generations really set in stone?” Employing the scientific method is the best way of determining information to be accurate, at least until new information can be validated on the subject. As for generational lines, I’ve been seeing many sources defining Millennials/Gen Y across varying criteria. Here are my theories on the defining lines:

1. Each century has approximately (5x) generations.
We have to draw the line somewhere, and though there can be overlap accounting for major world events or booms and drops in births, twenty years is a good marker. People in the first year representing the generation are usually (depending on society) considered legal adults shortly before they are 20. Brain researchers have also discovered changes in our minds with seven-year cycles, culminating in a mostly matured mind / prefrontal cortex, by age 21.  If we draw the lines of generation based on physical maturity, 20 year cycles represent a good balance.

2. Generations have shared experiences.
If you are a true Millennial, you were alive before Dick Clark welcomed the year 2000. This gets a little harder to define as people have different memories of events based on their respective age at the time. Still, we shouldn’t discount the younger ones of our group; though I remember certain defining moments in history better than my younger peers, it doesn’t mean that they were unaffected by the same events. Kids are always aware and learning. As one comedian said, “It’s like living with a lawyer for the prosecution.”

Case in point, a family friend was with his three-year-old crossing the street (with a green light and right of way) when a driver at the intersection beeped their horn and startled the child. The father responded appropriately to admonish the driver while keeping it G-rated for his daughter; his daughter ended the encounter by pointing to the driver and saying: “You’re a @–hole!” [Note: The child later turned to her father quietly and said that what she said was a bad word. Kids are always learning, and maturity applies collected knowledge to each new situation.]

Living in a binary world is easier for logic, but it falls short of the full spectrum of knowledge or expression that humans possess. These generation parameters are not sacrosanct, but I think they give a reasoned perspective. Depending on one’s age, you can find affinity for an older or younger generation. Generational taxonomy is more of a map than a dictionary; your place isn’t solely defined by birth, but seeing your peers allows a better perspective of where you are, and where you want to be.

Generation Y: Why Not?

I’ve had a few names hurled at me over the years. Nerd, geek, dork, etc. and for the most part, I’ve come to take these in stride and wear them as badges of honor.

Someone thinks that enjoying learning makes me nerdy?

My response: “Until I’m pushing daisies, I don’t want to be bored playing around with the knowledge I’ve gained so far; I want more!”

Someone thinks that appreciating the arts makes me a theater geek?

My response: “I’ve learned more about the human condition and living life by studying characters than most people learn in a lifetime of experience. I’m just being efficient, and there is so much to enjoy.”

Someone thinks that being silly makes me a dork?

My response: “If you can’t laugh at yourself and find humor in everyday life, what fun are you going to have? There is a time for decorum and being proper which I try to observe, but don’t let me live without laughter, that would be a cruel punishment.”

As I said, these labels and names are not necessarily derogatory if you look at them in the right way. It helps that I’ve had time to understand the labels and find ways of controlling them rather than being controlled by someone else’s notions. Conformity in life to the standards of others is not possible for everyone — especially the case for me if my circle of friends suddenly thought the arts and learning were not worth pursuing.

But I must confess that there is a label that strikes a deep chord when others use it to describe me. That word is “optimist.”

“Wait, did you just say ‘optimist’? I thought that was a good thing.”

Yes, being optimistic is generally considered good, positive, and preferred over the alternative. I have even dubbed myself an “eternal optimist.” However, this is not about creating a label that only I may use to describe myself, it is the manner in which people use the word ‘optimist.’ In today’s society, there seems to be great resistance to people who try to be on the positive side of things. It is as if seeing the world through rose-colored glasses somehow prevents the person from understanding reality.

I am hopeful that Generation Y will uphold idealism with a dose of realism. To be so jaded that nothing will ever change is just accepting the status quo, and a belief that what is positive cannot be achieved. I am not a Pollyanna, but I keep a steady current of positive energy going to handle the ups and downs of life. I am an optimistic realist. I understand that things don’t change overnight, but like Dr. King said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Also, I find peace in the mantra on all things positive and negative in the natural order: “This too shall pass.” While we may miss the good things, they are more special for their impermanence, and the suffering we endure is less potent as it will end in time. With open minds and hearts, Generation Y will be the generation to build bridges between goals and reality.

Millennials may be the generation to push the tough questions; they will pick up the mantle. Of course we have been asking these questions for some time now. As children, we might ask, “Why are people fighting, Daddy?” or “Why don’t people have food and water, Mommy?” Perceptions of fairness as children have carried into adulthood. Now as our siblings or our children in Generation Z start and continue these questions, how will we step forward to provide answers? There may be challenges to making positive changes, but Generation Y must still ask: “Why not?”

To my readers who are members of other generations, I ask that this post not be considered the stuff of idealized naiveté. People often assume to know the minds and knowledge that others possess, and sometimes age is used whether a person is “too young” or “too old” to match the preconceived idea. It does not matter how experienced you are, or how many years you have seen, if you believe everyone has a right to life, love, and happiness. Working to overcome the things preventing worldwide happiness will bring peace and meaning to us all; it takes many perspectives at the table.

I think long into the future and consider what epithet would be left for Millennials. I don’t want to seem morbid, but understanding our legacy can shape our actions today. And I can’t help but have a small curiosity to compare this post to the world of some decades hence, assuming anything living on the net will outlive those of us now alive. I wouldn’t think the great goal is to be the most famous of the generations, but of having a positive and far-reaching impact. To conclude, a future epithet for Generation Y:

They were lovers, dreamers, teaching to seek,
Connections, unity, freedom to speak.
Of all sharing a home where peace was kept,
With love and kindness, for none were except.
Learning, striving, for things beyond their reach,
Patience, fortitude, were ascribed to each.
Their laurels, our advancement, now they rest,
Promise the future that all may live best.

To my Gen Y compatriots: How can we find ways of embodying these words? — When told we can’t move forward, ask: “Why not?”