I’ve seen the phrase, “OK Boomer” a few times on social media but have largely ignored it until recently. After I wrote an article for a local newspaper about the need for intergenerational communication, a former colleague commented that my article was timely, given the increasing popularity of the “OK Boomer” retort.
My article was about the importance of different generations working together on common community concerns. I had mentioned that labeling older people as “selfish” was divisive and would not help us solve bigger issues.
My initial thought about pushback from younger community members was that older adults already worked shoulder-to-shoulder with younger people for some common concerns in the workplace and in our communities. Yet I can also appreciate why some younger people might perceive older people as “selfish.”
I did a quick search for “OK Boomer” to better understand why this phrase had become popular. The first explanation I found indicated that the term was meant to be dismissive and to mock boomers for their outdated and negative or condescending attitudes; to some degree, I think that is an understandable assumption. Another article suggested that the phrase is equivalent to ‘flipping off’ older people. However, further reading suggested that the phrase is more complicated and can be interpreted differently depending on how and when it is used and by whom.
Writing for Vox, AJa Romano examined the “OK Boomer” comment from different perspectives. One of the conclusions he drew was that the phrase expresses “economic anxiety, environmental collapse, and people resisting change.” As he pointed out, boomers have generally demonstrated less concern about issues that will affect younger generations, including climate change. As a generational cohort, we have also tended to vote differently and for different concerns than those of younger people. Arguably, some of the issues that are pressing for younger generations are ones that will affect them far more than older generations. They do have reason to be concerned.
When Greta Thunberg, a teenage environmental activist, addressed the Climate Action Summit at the United National General Assembly in September, she repeatedly used the phrase, “How dare you.” She was addressing older leaders and older generations who were shortchanging the future for younger generations as a result of inaction.
When attacked or criticized, it is natural to feel defensive. No doubt some older people have felt attacked, blamed, and misunderstood as a result of their generational membership. I also recognize how frustrating it can be for members of a younger generation who may also feel misunderstood and dismissed when facing an uncertain future.
A Need to Respond
As neighbors, as community members, and as citizens of a diverse country and global community, we cannot wait for some heroic leader to save us from ourselves. We’ve got to find ways to work together for common good.
Summarizing a finding from Cornell University, a Science News article reported that creating opportunities for intergenerational communication combined with education about older individuals was effective in reducing stereotypes. Until we address stereotypes and assumptions we have about different generations, we will not be able to effectively work together to solve bigger problems. We’ve got to start talking to each other rather than attacking each other.
I have volunteered to help facilitate some conversations in my own community. I am willing to share what I’m learning and encourage others to get involved. There are some pressing issues that go beyond our own generational perspectives.
What are your thoughts on how we can work more effectively across generations for common good?