GenX: The Adaptive Generation
In my last blog post I wrote about the Baby Boomers and the Millennials. I received a few requests to write about the generational cohort labeled Gen X (rough birth years 1960-1985), sandwiched between the two and much smaller than either. Most of the ministerial settlements last year were Gen Xers. I wonder if this may be a sign of a sea change in the UU movement.
Around the time Richard Linklater’s film “Slacker” came out in 1991, journalists and critics put a finger on what they thought was different about the young generation of emerging adults—they were reluctant to grow up, disdainful of earnest action. The stereotype stuck—and it stuck hard. Business school management books define our generation as adaptable but reluctant to make decisions; and boomer managers call on Xers to finally take on leadership roles. Wake up and step up, X! the culture seems to be saying.
The article goes on to quote Neil Howe, the leading national expert on generational theory:
It’s about time, [Howe] says, for Xers to acknowledge limits and step up to the plate. “These Xers spending their lives with this sardonic view, never taking anything that’s happening in public at face value, but always to find the failing, that expresses a bigger problem with X—they are always outsiders,” he says. “These boomer CEOs say that they are maturing to the extent that they should be heading into leadership roles, but they simply don’t want to accept responsibility to the bigger community.“
A Different Lived Reality?
UU Gen X blogger Kimberley Debus responds to Howe:
What Howe misses here is that we WANT to step up. We WANT responsibility. We CARE DEEPLY about the bigger community. But we keep finding there’s no room from the Boomers above and we’re being pushed from the Millennials below. We are the Prince Charles of generations.
The Gift of Adaptation
I see gifts that Gen X brings to our congregations. They a generational cohort that has learned to live their lives faced by adaptive challenge after adaptive challenge. They are quick to see the broken parts of our governance and the "stuck" parts of our culture. Another key difference of the Gen Xers is that instead of pooh-poohing all things Christian, they are learning strategy and skills from the missional evangelical churches. When Gen Xers find they can't break into leadership, they often creatively "hack" the institutional homeostasis when they don't have the power to change the system. Congregations that actively recruit Gen Xers into leadership increase their own adaptability to the changing context. I invite you to look at the composition of your board of trustees. What percentage is born after 1960?