Friday, June 6, 2008

Comfort in Division

I wanted to share this from another blog post I wrote on Leadership (Re)Defined,


Despite the chants of “Victory” and the illusion that the battle for America is over with Barack Obama clinching the Democratic presidential nomination, a man whose message is one of change, hope, and unification for a better America, we remain divided on many fronts. Yes, I have stated the obvious.

What remains concealed though, at times, is our comfort in division. Any time we can find a way to create an “Us v. Them” dichotomy, we seize the opportunity. Unfortunately, on the heels of what has been a remarkable primary season, a new division is being created: the Millennial Generation v. the Baby Boomers. Let’s get ready to rumble?

Yesterday, in the Huffington Post, Elizabeth Cermak implored Baby Boomers to “let go of the torch.” In the end of her piece discussing the impacts of the Millennial Generation in this election cycle (synonymous with Generation Y depending on who you get your age demographics from), she wrote,

“We Millennials have gotten our way in this primary, and Barack Obama's nomination is contagiously exciting to the vast majority of us. So I beg you, if you ever really believed that this country should pay more attention to the future desired and fought for by its young generation, support Barack Obama just out of your old respect for that idea regardless of your personal beliefs. Let go of your anger and the idea that a protest vote for John McCain in November would be better than voting for Obama just because you're frustrated you didn't get your way. That is a completely selfish and self-centered idea based only on the notion that this is still your country to steer. It isn't, so get down off the soapbox and hand over the torch. You may think that we're wrong, but what my generation wants is clear and we deserve our parent's respect just as much as your beliefs did.”

What she did, whether she realized it or not, is lay down the gauntlet in a battle that has been raging behind the scenes in American politics, the mounting tension between the Baby Boomers and the Millennials.

Baby Boomers have stereotyped Millennials as lazy and entitled. Their researchers, scholars, and media take every chance they can to explain to America what the Millennials are about. Millennials feel it is their time to step into the spotlight, in both the private and public sector, as well as on the political scene. The Boomers are recalcitrant to let the proverbial reigns completely go; Millennials have little patience.

Millennials cannot create Port Huron. We cannot relive the Free Speech movement at Berkeley. We cannot retool the Civil Rights Movement. We cannot recreate the culture of the 1960’s. We cannot replicate the same conditions, especially when the environment we have come to age in has been so entirely different from that of the Baby Boomers.

I have not seen the great political leaders of my time brutally assassinated in front of my eyes. I do not know what it is like to see thousands and thousands of young men come back in body bags or to pray their draft number was not called. I did not live 25 or more years of my life under the specter of the Cold War. So admittedly, there are some things I just do not know or do not understand. But as is evidenced by the growing division between the generations, ignorance, on either end, will not be bliss.

Whether anyone acknowledges it or Millennials themselves recognize it, we have our own set of experiences, ones that share some commonalities with that of the Baby Boomers. They experienced communism; we sat in front of the TV as people tore down the Berlin Wall. We saw the later chapters of our relations with the Middle East unfold. We saw the blowback of Cold War maneuvers in a post Cold War world. We have seen genocides, and the advent of terrorism in our backyard. We have grown up in a world of new wars: The War on Drugs, The War on Terror, The War on Poverty, and the newest of these, the War Against Global Warming. These are all experiences to which we ourselves will cling 25 years from now. It is hard to believe that we cannot find some way to bring the experiences of both generations together to move forward.

Running track in my youth, I remember the importance of passing the baton on to a teammate who was responsible for running the next leg of the race. As I approached the person who, outside of my control, would determine a piece of my future, I had to be sure they knew I was coming with that baton and that they had a firm grip on it before I let go.

Millennials have the baton at the tip of their fingers. Individuals like Cermak want the Baby Boomers to open their clenched fist on the baton that is 21st century America. Many Millennials feel they will have to run the next leg of this political and cultural race ever so much faster. This is not a feeling that I can disagree with, as many members of my generation, including myself, believe there is so much more to be done to bring about change in America. But, it will take both generations to pass the baton to move forward. The comfort in generational division brings with it the inherent risk that the baton will be dropped. And together, we will have to watch our common future, real change, whiz by as we fumble to pick it up.