Yeah, I’m going there. The latest shot fired across the internet has boomers highly offended. It comes across as dismissive and snarky. But is “OK, Boomer” the clapback to “OK, Snowflake?”
Why is “OK, Boomer” resonating with young people, and getting on the last nerve of Boomers? According to those who deftly wield the disparaging term, it’s a response to frustration. Frustration over not being heard. Of being dismissed, scorned and denounced as overly sensitive snowflakes, spoiled, lazy, entitled, and disrespectful “kids” who gorge on avocado toast. With the exception of the toast, which would have been replaced by marijuana, these terms were all used by the previous generation to describe Boomers.
As for the Boomers, their reaction may be one of disbelief. Being dismissed as irrelevant and out of touch was what happened to our parents, not us! We’re the cool kids, aren’t we? The hip, “now” generation who would never be as judgmental as our parents…would we? Could we?
When I was young (Full Disclosure: I am a Baby Boomer) the insults were different and yet eerily alike. Dirty hippies who had no respect for flag or country. Spoiled brats raised on Dr. Spock. No respect for authority or tradition, listening to that awful noise called rock and roll with transistor radios glued to our ears. Draft dodgers and commies. Airheaded flower children inappropriately dressed in mini-skirts and jeans. Long-haired freaky people who need not apply. Our clapback to the “out-of-touch, uncool older generations” was that they were square. “OK, Square.” Kinda lame, in retrospect. Maybe “Pleasant Valley Sunday” is a better example of a boomer clapback.
The resulting communication breakdown was named the “Generation Gap” in the early 60s to describe the extreme difference in the values and attitudes of Baby Boomers compared to previous generations.
A lack of understanding of the disparate life experiences that influence the development of our values and priorities combined with an unwillingness to listen to each other with open minds led to a major breakdown.
Although the current focus is on Boomers and Millennials, the “OK, Boomer” isn’t just coming from Millennials. Gen X and Gen Z also feel the frustration of being dismissed by previous generations. The good and bad news is- it’s not a new phenomenon. There are three constants that happen with each new generation.
Existing generations are always surprised by the incoming generation. They think they will be an “extension” of themselves – when in fact they are not.
Existing generations view the incoming generation negatively. They never live up to their expectations.
The incoming generation brings lost traits to the workplace – they fill a void. They bring new characteristics to the workplace that the other generations do not have.
“OK, Boomer” presents us with a golden opportunity to stop perpetuating the Generation Gap. We need more and better communication, not more barriers. This matters significantly in the workplace. There are already more Millennials in the workforce than any other generation, and Gen Z, coming on fast, outnumbers Millennials. We all need to get our fingers out of ears and start communicating with each other.
I conduct workshops on generations in the workforce, as employees, managers and customers. The first step is to help people understand the impact of the social, political, economic and cultural experiences of different generations in the formative years from birth to 21 and how that translates into values, attitudes, priorities and behaviors.
The objective is to help people better understand each other. Just because someone’s experience is different from ours, it doesn’t make them wrong or bad. Understanding is the starting point.
The next step requires healthy, productive communication. Open-mindedness, good questions, sincere listening. What do you have in common? What values do you share? Instead of seeing differences, consider the possibility of converging from different paths to a common goal.
Most importantly, we need to move past stereotypes and get to know people as the individuals they are. While generations may share some similar experiences growing up, those experiences don’t mean they’ll turn out as carbon copies. Two people can have the same experiences and be wildly different. Just ask siblings!
“OK, Boomer” means “You’re Not Listening”. The Generation Gap started with the Boomers. Let’s hear the message and end it.