When it comes to generational differences, as I’ve written before, I’m loathe to call-out the pros and cons of any one group. The way I see it, whatever 20-year timeslot we’re born into, we learn to adapt in unique and necessary ways. No judgment; no criticism. That’s how I feel personally. But, with the current pandemic as a backdrop, there’s a growing focus on one more topic that has the potential to spark finger-pointing. Our emotional flexibility – being able to tolerate disruption and transformation – may be shrinking, from one generation to the next. Are we, over time, losing our coping skills?
Like a lot of people, I’m guessing, I have a pretty set routine these days: coffee; a short burst of newsfeed; dog-walking; exercise. I’ve amped-up physical activity and seem to be eating more. It’s a chicken-egg thing: which came first? Yesterday my friend Beth and I took an extra-long racewalk – almost five miles. After a quick conversational dip into current global C19 stats, we shared memories of growing up with fathers who were born in the midst of The Great Depression. Another shattering, cataclysmic period that for sure altered the psychic DNA of our parents, as well as subsequent generations.
It goes without saying: any Depression-era person still living has this “pandemic” thing down. The pantry was already full – when the virus exploded — of root vegetables and jars of whatever could be preserved or pickled. Not only did this generation live through the horror of a total economic meltdown, but shortly faced the global chaos of World War II. No wonder our fathers, as Beth and I agreed, were so hard to read. They were hardened into resilience (what an oxymoron, there) in order to survive.
But that’s the thing about really hard times: successive blows to safety, security, sanity. Your perspective gets altered forever. The men and women of that era had a toughness of spirit, a shocked perspective – says author Dan Crenshaw – that’s been lost.
In his book, “Fortitude”, Crenshaw says that Western culture now includes large groups of people that are “easily offended and perpetually outraged”. And then he nails it down even more: “When dealing with failures and disappointments, Americans are increasingly taught not to self-reflect and strive to improve, but rather to find someone to blame.” But stoics like my father – who never missed the chance to answer my complaints with the phrase, “Things could be worse, you know” – weren’t big on self-reflection. Performance and outcomes were a matter of effort and determination.
What does it mean, to ‘cope’ through major ordeals and traumas? My father would have said, “Keep your mouth shut and do your job – whatever that is – even if it’s just making your bed.” Routines guide a lot of people through hard times. Author Crenshaw believes that coping begins with personal responsibility (“What do I need to do, to make things better?”) and a sense of perspective (“Things could always be worse”). He believes that “we”, an older generation, should be teaching “them” (the younger-somethings) how to step-up.
But I look around and observe that a great many mature individuals of power and influence seem to be flailing. Despite what author Crenshaw writes about “lost skills”, I see no clear divide between young, old, and middle-aged, when it comes to the appropriate perspective for these times. I believe that those who are able and willing, — regardless of what generation they occupy — should lead by example. A consistent message of reason, patience, encouragement, and bravery.