"You just don't understand!" Over the years, these words have been the battlecry (or the broken-hearted wail) of young people against the strictures and policies imposed by their elders. It is a cry usually followed up with a bracing statement that invariably begins with “When I was your age, we did things differently!”
The concept of the generation gap—that all-encompassing phrase used to describe the conflict between older people and the youth—has been presented in so many ways over the years. It has served as the gist of films, popular music, and television shows, as well as a starting point of discussion for many sociopolitical issues. It is a concept that has been played for both laughs and copious amounts of tears, but all of that is but the tip of an iceberg of conflicting yet correlated issues and points of view regarding anything and everything.
However, it is most notable that this conflict, so to speak, between generations has become more noticeable in recent years. Sociologists, psychologists, and cultural scholars have noted the increasing disparity among Baby Boomers, Generation X, and the so-called Millennials with regard to fashion, finances, and general morality.
Who's the Boss?
The modern Filipino workplace is where much of the intergenerational conflict comes into play. The set-up is virtually the same regardless of industry: senior and corporate executive management is invariably composed of Baby Boomers (born 1945-1965); middle management usually consists of Generation X (born 1966-1986); while Millennials (born 1986-1996; literally on the cusp of the Second Millennium) hold supervisory roles.
The product of a time rife with global upheavals, Baby Boomers in the workplace have, in the words of American lawyer and journalist Sally Kane, made work their raison d’etre. They are focused on their goals and on personal accomplishment; independent to the point of questioning authority, goal-oriented, competitive, and keen on self-actualisation—a characteristic that has earned younger boomers (c. 1960-1965) the questionable title of “The ‘Me’ Generation.” While many of them have retired or are now retiring, there are still those who work: mostly founders of family-owned or controlled corporations who are reluctant to relinquish full control to younger generations.
This has caused many Generation X’ers to chafe at the reins and rebel. Having grown up with an innate mistrust of authority in general due to numerous socio-political revolutions that erupted as they came of age and a personal sense of autonomy having grown up with two working parents and less parental supervision, the Gen X at work tends to be somewhat individualistic. They work best alone, saying they can cover more ground when they work by themselves. Having grown up during the genesis of the Information Superhighway, this generation easily switches between the use of technology and traditional methods of working and gathering information (physical libraries and archives are theirs for the browsing when the internet goes down).
But the general attitude of the Baby Boomers in power towards succession management has been the primary reason why Gen X’ers quit their jobs or cut short excellent careers in favour of starting their own businesses. To be very blunt about it, Gen X has had it with the overly authoritarian leadership of their elders, choosing instead to strike out on their own. Likewise, it gives them the opportunity to spend more time with their families—something they feel that they missed out on because their parents were so busy building their careers.
Contrast this with Millennials in the workplace. Everyone who graduates from college is highly driven and ambitious. Regardless of their generation, every fresh. grad jumps into the job-pool with high hopes for immediate advancement. Millennials, however, have taken this optimism and turned the knobs up to 11. Likewise, due to having grown up in a completely wired environment where they can get answers at the touch of a button (a click of the mouse, as it were), they want instant appreciation, quick growth, and easy advancement up the corporate ladder. This is not an attitude that endears them to their elders, of course, but one commendable when you realise that they’re thinking about their futures.
In between Generation X and the Millennials, however, Philippine Tatler has noted a niche group: Generation T. These are people between the ages of 25 and 40 who are filled with potential: a whole new generation of influencers, creative visionaries, and upcoming leaders who are making names for themselves and are changing the very face of the nation. A bright mix of youth, idealism, and a wisdom beyond their years, Generation T is redefining what it means to lead and to affect change in society.
Hey, Big Spender!
Now, if there is one particular issue that raises hackles with regard to generational disputes it would have to be their vastly differing spending habits.
Young people nowadays, according to both sociologists and style-watchers, are more brand-conscious than their elders. According to an October 2016 online survey conducted in the Asia-Pacific region by the British Broadcasting Network (BBC), millenials consider the brands they buy an extension of themselves: a tangible form of both identification and self-expression. Millennials also live for experiences, taking advantage of budget fares to see the world. Connectivity is also a big thing and a substantial amount goes to the acquisition of mobile gadgetry and reliable telecommunications plans, making millennials 80 per cent of the Philippine mobile communications market.
Contrast this with the spending habits of older generations. Baby boomers chose to invest for their future early in their careers. As a result, many have the means to travel, enjoy spa weekends; and dote upon adorable grandchildren.Their finances are also directed towards the purchase of maintenance medications and, alas, the inevitable: end-of-life-care, memorial plans, and the subsequent distribution of wealth among those who will be left behind. Generation X is also growing more savvy with regard to personal spending. They value quality as well as value for money; their purchases made to last as long as possible thanks to due consideration of durability and, in the case of clothes and accessories, timelessness.
The practical side of Gen X can also be seen in their purchase of lifetime investments such as real estate and vehicles. As they now enter middle age, these investments also include health and personal insurance, education funds for their children, and a tidy sum to retire upon when the time comes.
Check Your Morals at the Door
“Children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority, disrespect their elders, and love talking instead of exercise.” These were the words of the Greek philosopher Socrates in a tirade against Athenian youth during his time, but many older adults in this modern age would use the very same words when railing against the youth.
Millennials are perceived by their elders as having a rather tenuous grip on morality. While they are more open-minded with regard to issues regarding sexual identity, pre-marital relations, and the concept of having and raising children out of wedlock, they are also seen as a little too sensitive when it comes to reacting to socio-civic issues. The use of social media through which to air their views has been considered by many as a coward’s way out: many people air scathing opinions online instead of in public, protected, as they are, by a sense of virtual anonymity.
According to Jos Ortega, chairman and CEO of digital media agency Havos Media Ortega, the last thing a mill ennial wants to hear is to be told that he or she will be unable to do something. “To them, that is violating the very being of what they stand for,” he explained during a discussion on the millennial market with the Philippine Association of National Advertisers (PANA). “[Life] for millennials is a journey of self-discovery.”
But this drive towards self-discovery is not without consequences. Older generations see them as wilful and disrespectful to others; highly interactive online but completely lacking in interpersonal skills in the real world; overly dependent on technology; narcissistic and overly materialistic; even fatalistic as many millennials do not seem to have a solid foundation for their future or even a sense of where to go next.
Exposure to other ways of thinking thanks to being connected to the world online has also made many millennials drift away from traditional religion, with some veering into becoming agnostics and others into all-out atheists. Ironically, many baby boomers who once shunned organised religion find themselves seeking spiritual solace in the faith they left behind as they grow older. Even Generation X cynics have found new life, so to speak, in their respective churches: a sort of refuge and backlash against the wanton behaviour they see proliferating among the young.
There are various aspects of the generation gap that can be opened for discussion. Corporate and financial issues, particularly those involving the balance of power in the workplace or proper investing, are one; changing values are another.
In the end, it is up to all of us to coexist in mutual respect and some modicum of understanding. Perhaps the one question we need to answer is “Why can’t we all just get along?”