There is a meme going around the internet that is literally dividing generations. It’s the phrase, “OK boomer.”
From what I gathered, the phrase is Millennials’ and Generation Z’s way of cutting off the debate between Baby Boomers’ critiques of these younger generations. These generations’ constant clash of values has become so exhausting that the younger generation is putting an end to the war by a means only these younger generations would do:
Make a meme about it.
Essentially, if a Baby Boomer makes a remark that Millennials are “entitled” or Gen Z is “stuck in the internet,” the young person writes, “Ok, Boomer” and moves on. No conversation. No debate. Just move on.
“Ok, Boomer” has become an ageist remark that thickens the walls between these generations. And to be entirely honest, as a Millennial myself, I initially got a little excited when I saw this phrase. It’s not everyday you see an internet trend pop up that defends your generation’s values. I, too, am tired of feeling misunderstood, belittled, and categorized. This is a phrase that I could hide behind to keep pushing forward in my “enlightened (yet admittedly naive) view of this world.”
But that’s really not what we should be doing.
We live in a polarized society. It’s increasingly difficult to build bridges between different parties, whether it’s politics, race, sexual orientation, religion, or age. You’re either one or the other, and if you’re “the other,” then we want nothing to do with you. There is little effort to understand one another anymore. So, if there’s anything “Ok, Boomer” communicates, it’s “we’re not even going to try to understand you.”
What a harsh statement.
The thing about generation change is it’s a very personal affair. Every emerging generation is handed a completely different world than the generations before it. As that generation comes of age, it sets out to understand the world it has been given and react accordingly to make it better. The world Generations Y and Z were raised in is drastically different from the world Baby Boomers were raised in. Completely different. Therefore, their values will inherently be different because they are merely adapting and reacting to the culture laid before them by the current Generation. (Isn’t that funny? If there is anything negative about emerging Generations, it ultimately comes back on the Generations who raised it.)
The beauty of human beings we always want to make the world better. The problem, though, is that younger generations’ efforts to make the world better often means declaring the older generation’s world is wrong. Perhaps that’s where the offense comes from. Baby Boomers are offended that their values aren’t accepted by this emerging Generation that they want to protect themselves by fighting back. And of course, if anyone fights you, the natural response is to protect yourself by either fighting back with critiques of your own or running away with a cunning meme.
But do you see what’s at the heart of this fighting?
And do you know what’s at the heart of protecting oneself?
We’re afraid. We’re afraid the next generation is going to screw up everything we worked so hard to build. We’re afraid the older generation won’t give us the space to do what we can to improve this world.
We’re afraid to be misunderstood. So we choose to not understand.
I have gotten to work with and minister to people from all generations: The Greatest Generation, Baby Boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, Gen Z’ers, and the upcoming Generation Alpha. I can tell you from experience that there are phenomenal people from all of these generations, young and old. And here’s my message to young people everywhere: We can learn so much from those who have gone before us. We can learn how to work hard. We can learn how to invest our money safely. We can learn the advantages of buying a home. We can learn how to navigate shaky relationship dynamics when we hit bumps in our marriages. We can become better, sharper, holier people when we can be humble enough to learn from older generations instead of fight against them.
So my challenge for us is to change how we use the phrase “Ok, Boomer.” May it no longer be a phrase of dismissal, but a phrase of understanding. Instead of a sarcastic “Ok, whatever you say” with an eye roll and turning our backs, may it be an empathetic “Ok, I will try to understand” while looking them in the eyes and extending a hand shake.
And besides. Life’s a lot more pleasant when we all get along anyway.
* Banner image from Vox: https://www.vox.com/2019/11/19/20963757/what-is-ok-boomer-meme-about-meaning-gen-z-millennials