People seem increasingly obsessed with generational descriptors. Are you a boomer or a millennial? Are you Gen Z or Gen X?
The phrase “OK, Boomer” is being used to criticize baby boomers for being hopelessly out-of-touch with the contemporary scene. The counterpoint, “OK millennial,” is increasingly used to portray the younger generation as privileged and immature. Gen X has recently come under fire for being nihilistic, with the tag “Karen.” Some have asserted that this cross-generational animosity is due to five different generations being in the workforce for the first time in history. That assertion is ludicrous.
The country has had five different generations in the workforce since the nation was founded. The Founding Fathers did not spend much time fussing over their generational labels, but if you overlaid today’s generational descriptors on the Founding Fathers in the year 1776 this is what you would find.
James Monroe and Marquis de Lafayette would belong to Gen Z. Nathan Hale, Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson would be millennials. John Hancock, Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams and George Washington would be Gen Xers. Benjamin Franklin would be a boomer. And Samuel Whittemore would have been a member of what we now call the silent generation.
If you are not familiar with Samuel Whittemore, he was the oldest man to fight in the Revolutionary War. On a spring day in 1775, the British army was marching toward Boston following the Battles of Lexington and Concord. At the age of 80, Whittemore, a landed farmer by occupation, decided to ambush the British troops. He managed to kill three British soldiers before he was shot and run through with a bayonet, run through several times. The British left him, thinking he was dead or soon would be.
When some Colonial Gen Zs and millennials came upon Whittemore, he had regained some strength and was reloading his gun to continue the fight with the British. The younger men took him to a local doctor who didn’t offer a bright prognosis; the doctor was wrong. Whittemore lived to be 98, long enough to see the British defeated, the nation founded and the Constitution ratified.
So, when the nation was busy being born, you had five different generations working together toward a common vision. When the nation drafted its Constitution, there were multiple generations in the room where it happened. Throughout that summer, there were generational differences in votes on how to design the nation. For example, the millennials were OK with a stronger executive and a stronger national government while the boomers were not. However, they did not launch personal attacks at each other based on age differences. They settled down to the business of getting the work done, taking the best from each generation’s experience, keeping the overall mission of creating a new nation in view.
Does the 21st century mark the first time that five different generations have worked side by side? Not by a long shot. However, it may be the first time in history that five different generations have walked around thinking they are all uniquely special, each generation possessing the necessary ego and narcissism to conclude that its own members are God’s gift to humankind. Well, regardless your generation, you are not that special. Get over it, and get on with fostering and supporting the nation that the Founders envisioned.