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.

Because I Could Not Stop for Death

The recent passing of my great uncle has left me thinking about the theme of life and its counterpart. For Generation Y, most of us are probably still healthy and living normally without intense focus or concern by necessity for our health. To those in our ranks who have passed from this world, you are missed, and we shall persevere in your memory.

My great uncle was a humble man, but it was his humility that made him a great man. My uncle was blind from a time in his 30s and lived to be 94. I can’t be certain if medical science could have changed things if he had received better care, but a combination of earlier childhood infection and later issues took his vision completely. Still, out of many people I knew, he could probably see more clearly than most. As a young child, I remember visiting him and my great aunt and being given attention like a person. I say this because children are sometimes preferred “seen and not heard,” but I was included in our family.

As I would later learn from my godfather, my uncle endured a life outside of normal person-hood when people would ask my aunt if my uncle wanted more food at a formal gathering while he was sitting at the same table. Only his eyes were affected, but his hearing, his heart, and his mind were fully active. It was from this experience that I think my uncle chose to open his heart, and be a better example for including those who are often excluded. Learning from my uncle, I think Gen Y should see that just because someone has a visible impairment, illness, or even an unseen health concern, it does not make them less of a person, make them incapable of strong ideas or emotions, or put them in a circle of exclusion. All people need love, and by working towards inclusion, we help everyone find a better balance in managing life, and whatever challenges they face.

Speaking medically for a moment, I have lost a few family members after some drawn-out illnesses. For Gen Y, it with our parents and grandparents that we are learning about end of life concerns, and seeing the resulting sandwich generation issue. I don’t want to denigrate any of the many wonderful, skilled, and dedicated medical professionals in our workforce, but the system has left much to be desired. In some ways with my aunt, who passed a few years back, as well as my uncle, we had to fight to get the care they needed. Seeing how this happened, I’m better prepared when I become the caregiver in the sandwich, but I am holding hope that things will change. More people are moving towards needing end of life care, and we should not ignore the need to reform the industry to handle the population growth.

My uncle slipped in and out of lucid thought as he neared the end, and to my knowledge, he was not in any great pain. The pain is felt by those left behind, and even harder when the person we love is still alive, but the spark of their life no longer registers in their words, or in their body. Now that he is at peace, those left behind will honor his legacy.

A few days ago, a man passed from this world. A man who loved others, sang his faith in service to his church, and could see more clearly than most. We cannot be certain of what is to follow this life on earth, but my uncle is not dead. He lives on in me, and his example of seeking a loving and inclusive world is the example I will try to carry all my days. To any living in sadness now, I offer my love, and life will continue. Life is a journey, often with struggles and hardship, but we grow better and stronger from all that we experience.

You’re In Urinetown

“Nothing like too much exposition to kill a show real bad. Or a rotten title — that can kill a show pretty good.”

This week I had the opportunity to see a production of “Urinetown the Musical” as directed by one of my dear friends with his high school students. With my own background in theater, and having the opportunity to see the original show, I was very impressed with the students. Not only did they portray their characters excellently in song and dance, but they really had a grasp about what the show meant. Full disclosure of course that while I kvell for their achievements, they are all still Gen Y members. The students may have come up after my time in school, but they are no less informed and adamant about protecting the environment and being aware of things discussed by the work.

But where are my manners? Without spoiling the plot I can tell those who don’t know the show that a 20 year drought has forced the rationing of water to the point that people have to pay to pee. There’s a love interest and plenty of humor, but the themes and topics are still unquestionably dark for a musical. It is a chilling realization for some as the show makes reference to 19th Century notable Thomas Malthus, an Anglican clergyman who wrote:

“The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world” —Malthus T.R. 1798. An essay on the principle of population. Chapter VII, p61

Malthus’ works underscore his belief that such turmoil for resources among the population was divinely ordained to spur more pious behavior by the public. We may not all see the same perspective on matters of faith and religion, but members of Generation Y seem to have a keen grasp on how the current societal systems may not serve everyone’s needs. Planning and working together is the only way to address shortfalls and problems faced by the people of Earth. Whether we like it or not, we are all down here, and if one of us suffers, there is a chance that we could be affected too.

“Urinetown” didn’t flush away the other dark points as the show covered how people can be manipulated by fear. In a topic that I’ll have to cover again in the future, fear is one of those things that everyone can relate to. If a person lives in fear of something, they can be controlled, and depending on who is wielding the instrument, there can be abusive use of fear. The power is manifest in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s words “The only thing we have to fear is: fear itself.” Seeing fear as something that is either unknown or unable to be changed by our actions allows us to guard against being controlled by fear.

This post also reminded me of an interview that CBC radio’s Jian Ghomeshi did with actor, Mandy Patinkin. Mr. Patinkin spoke of fear as being something he lived with, but in its reality, he embraced it until it lost its power. Consider something you fear desperately, and whatever it is, that you are living in close quarters at all times with this fear. Sooner or later, boredom may settle in, and fear will huddle in the corner because it has no more power. We come to know fear by being in the unknown, but with knowledge, nothing can keep us cowering.

Be brave. The world needs bravery in the face of fear. We need to protect the world, and our brothers and sisters. Accept what we cannot change, and fear will fade in the wake of our accomplishments.