The sudden realization that my youngest cousin is an adult had me pondering the generation-gap phenomenon from an angle I hadn’t previously considered. Reflecting from somewhere in the middle, I want to be mindful of my perceptions and my outlook as new generations become adults, effectively ensuring that my attitude ages gracefully.
My youngest cousin was born when I was nine. I held him as a baby, and I quickly noticed we were the only two with blue eyes and blonde hair among the many cousins. Now he’s 25 years old. No matter what he’s done and accomplished for himself, who he’s invited into his life, or who he’s stumbled into; where life has taken him, or where he’s taken it, I just recently realized I continue to see him as a collection of all the people, places, and stories that have happened to him. Every facet of his identity; every tattoo, every adventure, every decision, every opinion, I see — I’ve just realized — as being influenced by the shared experiences of the people who lived before he was born, or by some events that forced their way into his life or his consciousness before he was old enough to help shape his formative events. This severely limits my appreciation of him, and it’s unintentional. It’s an observation, for what it’s worth. By extension, I realized to my dismay, I’m seeing many people in the generation below mine through a similar lens.
Flip to the relatives in my extended family who are older than me. These people, it’s seemed, already had their identities intact before I was born. They came to me pre-packaged. Their adventures, decisions, and opinions were, and are, their own. When they are stubborn, or generous, or open-minded, or bigoted, I haven’t automatically credited the factors that contributed to the culture in which they were raised. I haven’t considered the influence of the shared experience of the people who lived before they were born, and I haven’t known enough about the events that shaped them, or about the events they may have tried to shape along the way. They have been ready-made, distinct identities, and relatively constant. This also limits my appreciation of people, and it’s unintentional. I work on it, but people don’t always want to share their stories.
These older relatives most likely see me the way I have often seen those younger than me.
I think this outlook can be seen in every generation as younger generations become adults. Older people reflect on the young, sometimes appearing confused about where youth culture comes from, or alternately thinking the youth are essentially merely borrowing trends or ideas from previous generations. They seem to fail to notice the irony; their own generation and its shared experiences, the events shaping its collective consciousness, are directly affecting each coming generation. Or they may not see that some behavior in youth is an attempt to correct standards too rigid or too lax in the generations that went before. But even stranger, I wonder if they fail to notice that their own parents and grandparents’ generations also did the same; viewing them as merely a collection of events and influences, and never as distinct identities.
This is a paradox; something I’m trying to stay conscious of and work at. I am part of a generation in the middle, and I’m trying to avoid labeling, confusion, and missing out on the complexities of not only the people in my life, but people of every generation in the wider world.