Communication across the generational gap can seem like a lost cause, but we have to try.
I am a millennial. And if the headlines are to be believed, that means that I am a lazy, entitled, avocado-gobbling narcissist who is completely dependent on social media.
Hardly a day goes by without something about the “evils of my generation” turning up on my newsfeed, and these stereotypes have become so commonplace that we’ve become almost numb to it. Sure, shrugging and swiping the news item away is preferable to getting into a comment war with a Gen X-er determined on comparing you to a strawberry, but there has to be a better way to communicate with the older generation.
So here’s an idea. Let’s talk. And I mean really talk. Let’s have good, solid conversations where we listen and understand each other first, and then react.
The growing fault line between generations
According to Regardless of Generation, a CNA documentary exploring this very issue, Senior Minister of State Janil Puthucheary projects that come 2030, Gen X (generally used to refer to those born between 1965 and 1981) will become the largest voting bloc in the nation as the youth population of Singapore shrinks.
This poses a problem. As the largest voting bloc, Gen X will essentially shape what kind of country Singapore will be. When this happens, will our youth population feel neglected and turn apathetic?
I feel like it’s already happening as generations are pulling away from each other.
Are millennials viewed accurately?
The daily onslaught of criticism lobbed at the millennials has buried some of the most inspiring things about this generation. Millennials have been labelled self-absorbed and individualistic, but to believe that is to turn a blind eye to the overwhelming evidence that proves otherwise.
Millennials have shown a remarkable ability to empathise with others. They think beyond themselves, caring about the rights of individuals and protecting the environment. All over the world, youths are spearheading social change, and ours are no different.
In Singapore, millennials campaign for climate change, lead organisations that seek to bridge the local-foreigner divide and advocate for equality in various forms. Our youth are an amazing, vibrant force with the potential to push for progress, and dismissing them for being a loose bunch of stereotypes cobbled from sneering headlines does them a disservice.
It takes two hands to clap
And as much as we would like to be taken seriously, we must also extend the same kindness towards the older generation ourselves.
When someone from Gen X starts sounding off on “people nowadays”, it’s tempting to simply ignore them because you’re annoyed, frustrated and fed-up with their condescension.
But brushing them off isn’t productive. It does nothing to further understanding or consensus between the generations. So, millennials, use that wonderful ability to empathise: Communicate. Dig deeper. What are we really dealing with here? What’s behind the nagging and fury?
The cracks won’t heal unless we reach across the divide. Musician Benjamin Kheng and Ambassador-at-Large Professor Chan Heng Chee had some productive intergenerational conversations recently, in Regardless of Generation. When Benjamin admitted that our generation isn’t as aware as we should be about Singapore’s water issues, Professor Chan didn’t judge him, but simply explained that her generation went through a water shortage, which informs her views on the issue. She went a step further to find common ground by suggesting that millennials who are already worried about the environment and climate change should also think about our water issues.
As millennials, we need to realise that we don’t know everything and there are some things that the older generation can teach us. We should ask questions, remain open and do our best to understand. As for Gen X and the pre-independence generation, we’re just asking for the same in return. Check your assumptions at the door and see us for who we really are. Calling us strawberries won’t make us more resilient. Pigeonholing the older generation as stubborn and conservative doesn’t help to make them more understanding. We must move past snarky quips and sneering labels when talking to each other because it is only then a true conversation can begin.
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