Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Generational Theory

Last year I attended a workshop on multigenerational worship at the UUA General Assembly. In general, we use the term "multigenerational worship" for the few services a year which are meant for the children to stay and participate in, but the workshop pointed out that every worship service we do is a multi-generational service unless we have specifically called for one narrow age group (such as, I suppose, a Young Adult only service).

At the time, I found it profoundly eye-opening to realize that "Adult" is not a monolithic category, but instead includes many different age cohorts. So I was very interested to read Generations of Faith: a congregational atlas by Carl G. Eeman.

Eeman looks at the work of William Strauss and Neil Howe, who first presented Generational Theory and explained that history and generational archetypes have a cycle they move through.

These generational archetypes are:

Prophet/Idealist (currently the Baby Boomers, born between 1943-1960)
Nomad/Reactive (currently Gen X, born between 1961-1981)
Hero/Civic (the GI generation born between 1901-1925 and the Millenial generation born between 1981-2003)
Adaptive/Artist (the Silent Generation born between 1925-1942, and Gen Z born between 2003-2019)

Although individuals may differ, the theory goes that there are characteristics and norms that hold true for generations, and that each generation is affected by the generations that come before it in a predictable and patterned way. These patterns also extend to history, with crises, awakenings, and cultural shifts coming in a somewhat predictable pattern as history and generations affect each other.

In Eeman's book, he describes a committee meeting with some Silents, some Boomers, and some Gen X'ers. At this hypothetical meeting, the Silents will be most concerned with process and procedure, and with hearing from everyone no matter how long it takes. They will stick with the process and expect folks to be flexible and open-minded in discussing disagreements. The Boomers will be passionate about their ideas and more prone to see things as right vs. wrong (and themselves as Right). They are also generally not afraid of an argument, or may even enjoy one, so they will bring a passionate debate style bordering on fighting to the discussion of disagreements. And, finally, the Gen. X'ers will just want to quickly find a practical solution, and will dislike both the time that Process takes and the combativeness of the Debate. They can be prone to withdrawal, and just "keeping their heads down" until the point comes to actually Do something.

Eeman doesn't place any Civic types at this committee meeting, because currently the Civics are our elders and our children. But when they are present, they will bring optimism and a "let's all pull together" attitude, while unfortunately sometimes discouraging diversity and dissent because it's seen as bad for group cohesion.

Of course this is a generalization, so you can't look at any one member of any generation and expect them to behave exactly as their generational profile would predict, but as a Big Picture it strikes me as being true enough. And it's fascinating stuff to read.

I find it interesting to note that I am on a cusp between generations. Although I was born just within the border of Gen X, all my siblings are Millenials and I feel like I share more of that generations character, which is "everyone pull together" and "let's get this done". On the other hand, my husband and many of my friends are more solidly in Gen X, and I see the characteristics of pragmatism bordering on cynicism in them. And we are all reacting to the "me first" emphasis on personal happiness and fulfillment of the Silent and Boomer generations, which left many of their children with inadequate parental care, childhood disruption, and divorced parents. If the cyclical theory holds, we will then turn around and parent our own children with too much parental protection, leaving them feeling smothered and rigidly controlled and then leading to them growing up to seek more personal fulfillment and expression - and the cycle continues.

1 comment:

  1. I linked this post on my blog: religiousleader.blogspot.com