The following is a guest post by Rebecca Hopkins, an American writer, wife to a relief pilot, member of a cross cultural team, and mama to three kids—while living in beautiful, friendly Indonesia.
“We have this whole sky to ourselves.”
My husband, Brad, wasn’t exaggerating. He was flying a small Cessna 185 float plane in the central Borneo jungle, landing on winding rivers, dodging canoes and gold miners. On that day, he was the only pilot out there, answering medical evacuation calls from remote Indonesian villages, carrying passengers in just one hour to save them a journey that would take hours, even days on rivers and jungle roads.
“It’s pretty cool where a float plane will take you, isn’t it?” he said.
We know, however, that this magic of connecting communities to important resources happens because that one float plane is just one part of a team. That team includes the flight followers in the office, the airstrip agents in the villages that weigh passengers, the donors in other countries, our headquarters that does so much, and other pilots and staff members who’ve invested many years into this work.
And for our team to be successful in this high-stakes job of relief aviation, we need trust.
Trust should be built, not assumed
Sometimes trust is assumed, based on a shared foundation of beliefs, goals and purpose. That’s a good start. But having a growth mindset with trust—that it’s built, not only assumed—creates both a stronger trust and gives a way to deal with broken trust.
“Team leaders and members will often want their teams to quickly pour their trust into their latest idea or plan,” writes
“The Teaming Church” author Robert C. Crosby. “But it is something that is built and added to with every task accomplished, every promise kept and every concern addressed.”
Younger generations less likely to trust
This need to build trust seems more urgent now than ever. A 2014 Pew Center survey shows that younger generations are less likely to trust than their older counterparts.
To this question: “Generally, speaking, would you say that most people can be trusted or that you can’t be too careful in dealing with people,” 19 percent of Millennials chose trust. Thirty-one percent of Gen Xers were willing to trust, compared to 40 percent of Boomers.
Advice on building trust
That caution to trust can provide an opportunity to utilize good building blocks of trust.
Accountability, vulnerability, forgiveness, grace, open dialogue and prayer are all important, according to Erik Plantenga in a blog post titled “The Trust Factor in Multicultural Teams.”
David Sedlacek in Christianity Today’s “Teams in Missions: Are they worth It?” lists questions teams can ask each other: Mission – Why are we a team? Goals – What will we do? Roles – What do my teammates and I do? Communication – How do we relate to each other? Decision-Making – How do we make decisions? Conflict – How do we handle conflict?”
Another simple one that both leaders and staff members can ask before they act: Is this (policy, decision, etc.) building trust or breaking down trust?
Different cultures, genders and generations require different trust-building blocks
But the answers themselves aren’t always straightforward and take team discussion to recognize different needs.
“Cultural differences play a key role in the creation of trust, since trust is built in different ways, and means different things around the world,” write Ira Asherman, John W. Bing, Ed. D and Lionel Laroche, Ph.D., P.E. for global consulting firm ITAP international in their article, “Building Trust Across Cultural Boundaries.”
When trust is broken
“In our 20-plus years of research, we’ve discovered that 90 percent of the behaviors that break trust are unintentional and subtle,” write Dennis and Michelle Reina, co-founders of Reina, A Trust-Building Consultancy that has worked for companies like Johnson & Johnson, the U.S. Army and Harvard. “We’ve seen that these trust-breaking behaviors occur on a daily basis and are committed by everyone, at every level of responsibility, and within every form of professional relationship. While people know they need trust in their workplaces, most still aren’t sure how to restore trust once it’s been lost.”
In a Christian organizational context, offering forgiveness might be a response to broken trust. While this is an important piece of moving away from bitterness, it doesn’t, alone, rebuild trust.
The Reinas list such steps as “Observe and acknowledge what happened.” “Allow feelings to surface.” “Get and give support.” “Take responsibility,” in addition to forgiveness, and finally, “letting go and moving on” armed with deeper knowledge and growth resulting from the incident.
Vulnerable situations require built trust
A 2007 Pew report supports that “people who feel vulnerable or disadvantaged, for whatever reason, tend to find it riskier to trust because they’re less well-fortified to deal with the consequences of misplaced trust.” Organizations can look at times when its members or users are feeling vulnerable to make sure the policies in place build trust. How are transitions handled? How are health concerns dealt with? How are times of changing leadership addressed in a trust-building fashion?
Some of Brad’s passengers could easily fall into the category of “vulnerable or disadvantaged” as they’re strapped to a stretcher, or step into that plane carrying a sick child. They’re entering both a float plane…and trust that has been built over time, through intentional decisions by lots of people. And in many cases, lives are saved.
I think you could say, it’s pretty cool where trust—and not just float planes—can take you.
Given the emphasis on productivity in our culture, saying we need to be unproductive may sound counter intuitive. Some of the greatest tips for success in life do! I recently discovered again the significance of seemingly unproductive time. As a mommy of twin preschoolers, who also stays busy speaking, teaching and writing, I usually find myself multi-tasking excessively. I strategically schedule time to write during naps, squeezing in a load of laundry while taking a break to refill my coffee. Talking on the phone while walking the trails by our house allows me to have a quick workout, get some fresh air and catch up with a friend or colleague all at the same time! I have even left projects out on the table to work on should the girls wake up in the middle of the night! This pace often leaves me mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Recently, I read an article discussing Google’s 80/20 concept, where employees are encouraged to spend 20 percent of their work hours doing whatever they want. Why would a major company propse such a policy? They know the benefits of rest, daydreaming and amusement. Down time can increase problem-solving, creativity, concentration and well-being. In his book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Covey’s seventh habit is that of balanced self-renewal, or what he calls “sharpening the saw.” He emphasizes intentionally renewing our physical, spiritual, mental, and social/emotional wellbeing. Covey explains, “This is the single most powerful investment we can ever make in life—investment in ourselves, in the only instrument we have with which to deal with life and to contribute…we need to recognize the importance of taking time regularly to sharpen the saw.” While such a statement may sound selfish, it rings true. An exhausted, overworked, distracted individual has little to offer to anyone in his or her life.
While on a walk with my husband, daughters and dog, we came to a small lake. While my husband scratched the dog and talked to the girls, I walked out to the end of a dock and sat down. The rustling of the leaves tickled my ears and the peacefulness of the water captured my gaze. I felt my body begin to relax and happy memories of summers fishing with my grandparents flooded my mind, bringing a smile to my face. My husband asked if I wanted to continue walking. I answered, “No, I am just going to sit here!” I needed to capture that moment! In this season of life, I may not be able to spend 20 percent of my time daydreaming or even engage in regular activities to “sharpen my saw,” but I can take 7 ½ minutes to enjoy the stillness of the sun reflecting on the water before the kids start to fuss, or read three pages from my favorite book before drifting off to sleep at night. As we enjoy the busyness of the upcoming holiday season, be sure to pause and soak up some moments of peace and reflection. These moments may prove to be the most productive in the day!
The following is a guest post by Bill Mann, who writes and speaks on inter-generational mentoring
The next generation (Generation Z, born 1995-2010) are those who have grown up with devices, such as a cell phone or an iPad, readily available. The first are now going to college, while the youngest are in elementary school.
Recently, some of the potential negative impacts of the digital world have been emerging. For those of us who mentor, teach or parent Generation Z, it is critical that we understand these dangers. There are now eight new mental illnesses resulting from internet use. According to Evin Dashevsky, writing in PC World, these disorders, which range from the “benign to destructive,” have just been recognized recently and didn’t even exist in the middle 1990s.
Some of these are variations of older disorders. While some may be familiar with FOMO, one of these new disorders is called “Nomophobia” which is a fear of not having access to your mobile phone (either it crashed, you lost power, or it was lost or stolen). The condition can be severe, as the PC World magazine article notes: “[T]he condition has found its way into the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) and has prompted a dedicated Nomophobia treatment program at Morningside Recovery Center in Newport Beach, California.”
Another condition is called Cybersickness which results in physical symptoms like nausea and dizziness caused by interacting with things like virtual reality. The next is called “Facebook Depression,” which may be descriptive enough. It comes from the despair that accompanies one watching everyone else have more fun and lead more successful lives than yours.
The next two are described as addictions: “Internet Addiction Disorder” and “Online Gaming Disorder.” The former is descriptive of such an extraordinary use of the internet that it interferes with your daily life. The latter is limited to an unhealthy need to be online playing multiplayer games.
Finally, with the internet, information not otherwise available about medicine is now readily available leading to users having something called “Cyberchondria,” where one is led to believe they have diseases that they found online. Sites like WebMD give enormous amounts of information, resulting in people who may have a simple headache becoming concerned that it might be a brain tumor.
The last is one that I am most concerned about based on what I’ve been learning recently. It’s called the “Google Effect.” It describes how our brains are declining in the ability to retain facts or information because it can be found online via search engines like Google or Bing.
As a result, our brains are changed and we no longer have the ability to retain information as much as prior generations. The number of searches on Google has grown from 9,800 in 1998 to 4.7 trillion today. Since we now have nearly all the information ever created by civilization at our fingertips, our brain functions may be altering how and what we retain. In effect, people have started using Google instead of their brains to store information. Unfortunately, as one writer notes, our brains use information stored in our brains in order to “facilitate critical thinking.”
In his book, Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction is Hijacking Our Kids and How to Break the Trance, author Dr. Nicholas Kardaras likens the addictive effect on young children as being the same as Digital Heroin. He has observed reactions of young children going through signs of withdrawal when denied the access to digital devices, including tantrums as if they were digital junkies.
Heady stuff, and some of it scary since these disorders are new, or at least variations of other disorders. For mentors, it means that we are likely to encounter someone in the next generation who has more than just a mild interaction with the internet or the digital world. As Marvin Brubacher suggests, if that interaction results in addictive behavior, a mentor needs to be able to identify it and help them through it, or at least direct them to counseling.
To mentor the next generation, one needs to understand them. Now, that understanding includes learning about emotional or addictive behaviors which are novel and new. Ryan Terrance put it this way: “Everything in moderation, and there's a perfect balance in this life if we can find it.” Our challenge as mentors and parents is to help our mentees navigate a safe route in the digital world and urge moderation and wisdom in their use of technology.
Most of us are interested in ways to decrease stress, improve sleep, and stimulate brain growth and memory. And yet, research shows that silence does all of this and more. In a world where we carry our favorite music in our back pocket; engage in long-distance conversations anywhere, anytime; and listen to podcasts, audio books or funny Youtube videos on demand, silence is often elusive.
A recent study indicates that not only is silence difficult to find, but we actively avoid it. In an experiment where individuals were given the choice of sitting in silence with their thoughts, or inflicting an electrical shock upon themselves, the results were surprising. Even though participants had previously stated that they would pay money to avoid being shocked, 67% of the men and 25% of women chose to inflict it on themselves rather than sit quietly and think for 15 minutes.
While it can be difficult to carve out or choose time for silence, solitude and reflection, there are a few key reasons for us as leaders to do so:
1. Healthy Relationships
Relationships are critical to our health and wellbeing. In today’s busy, digitally-driven world, our longing for deep relationships is greater than ever. Often we substitute noise and a sense of connectedness for true relationships. Writer Johnathan Franzen describes that “our infatuation with technology provides an easy alternative to love.” Ironically, it is often silence and solitude that allow us the understanding and peace to engage in deep, caring, healthy relationships more regularly. Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island, explains: “The man who fears to be alone will never be anything but lonely, no matter how much he may surround himself with people. But the man who learns, in solitude and recollection, to be at peace with his own loneliness, and to prefer its reality to the illusion of merely natural companionship, comes to know the invisible companionship of God. Such a one is alone with God in all places, and he alone truly enjoys the companionship of other men, because he loves them in God.”
2. Effective Leadership
Leaders today are confronting increasingly complex problems in ever-changing environments. More than ever, we need time and space to clear the clutter from our minds and focus on the challenges we confront. Author and speaker, Sarah Ban Breathnach, explains, “Usually, when the distractions of daily life deplete our energy, the first thing we eliminate is the thing we need the most: quiet, reflective time. Time to dream, time to contemplate what's working and what's not, so that we can make changes for the better.” Kate Murphy, in her article, No Time to Think says, “You can’t solve or let go of problems if you don’t allow yourself time to think about them. It’s an imperative ignored by our culture, which values doing more than thinking and believes answers are in the palm of your hand rather than in your own head.” I would add that sometimes the answers are whispered in our heart. When we fail to listen, in silence and solitude, we may miss the best answers to issues we are facing.
3. Identity and Purpose
In a study by anthropologist Emily Martin, an eleven-year-old girl from a broken home, who bounces between three households, explains that in each of these households the rules are different and so is she. Her identity, like that of many of us today, is defined by an external context. This translates easily into the virtual world, where our identities can be fluid and adaptable. Unfortunately, this also makes us vulnerable to confusion, depression, and a lack of confidence. Silence and reflection is the space where we can listen to our own heart and identify our identity and purpose. Carl Sandburg describes this beautifully when he says the following: “A man must find time for himself. Time is what we spend our lives with. If we are not careful we find others spending it for us. . . It is necessary now and then to go away and experience loneliness; to sit on a rock in the forest and to ask, 'Who am I, and where have I been, and where am I going?' If one is not careful, one allows diversions to take up one's time—the stuff of life.”
As leaders, may we prioritize silence and reflection, benefiting from the rest and understanding that come from these disciplines. More importantly, may we model these critical practices for those younger than us who are in danger of living lives full of noise and distraction, without understanding the beauty and healing of silence and solitude.
Recently, I attended an event where a Boomer leader was presenting. Various times throughout his PowerPoint presentation, he experienced technical difficulties and called on a Millennial colleague to rescue him. As I watched the young colleague respond and resolve very basic issues, I was reminded of the deep need for understanding and engaging in reverse mentoring in our inter-generational relationships.
Reverse mentoring is a two-way relationship where individuals learn from one another across generational or cultural lines. This concept has been around for a couple of decades, but has gained popularity in many professional circles in the past decade. Alan Webber, the co-founder of Fast Company, explains its importance: “It’s a situation where the old fogies in an organization realize that by the time you’re in your forties and fifties, you’re not in touch with the future the same way as the young twenty-somethings. They come with fresh eyes, open minds and instant links to the technology of our future.” Author and cultural expert, Earl Creps, further explains, “The rate of change in our culture puts younger people in touch with things for which their elders sometimes even lack the vocabulary, suggesting the need to go beyond intergenerational tolerance to reconciliation that leads to a new collaboration.”
One definition of mentor is “trusted counselor or guide.” We have traditionally viewed mentoring as primarily an opportunity for those older and wiser to impart their knowledge to those younger or less experienced. This works well when the culture or context is stable and predictable, and we can assume that what worked in the past will work in the future. However, in a season of cultural and technological change such as we are witnessing around us today, the patterns of yesterday may need revision to be effective in the days ahead. We must be prepared to learn from the future as well as the past. Young people intuitively understand elements of the future that can remain hidden to those who are older. Nonetheless, they often lack the wisdom and maturity that comes from years of life and leadership. This is where a partnership between the two becomes incredibly powerful, offering the potential for maximizing the strengths of both perspectives. In this sense, both parties have insight that can place them in the role of counselor or guide.
Earl Creps explains that reverse mentoring “uses the unlikely possibility of a relationship to benefit both parties through mutual learning from honesty and humility.” These elements of honesty and humility are essential to the success of a reverse mentoring relationship. Each party must acknowledge their need for learning. They must be willing to ask questions, listen and step outside of their comfort zone to engage new ideas, skills and perspectives. In doing so, we expose ourselves to an expert in topics and practices that we might otherwise spend time and money learning about through podcasts, books, or seminars.
As I observed the Boomer leader needing technical assistance during his presentation, I was struck by the fact that he expected the Millennials in that audience to learn from what he had to say. However, it appeared that he had not made an effort ahead of time to learn from one of them more about his computer. The irony of this picture is repeated frequently in inter-generational relationships. We must be willing to seek out and invest in relationships with those both younger and older than ourselves. As I think about the individuals who I am learning from in my life right now, many of them are 20 years older or younger than I am. I am thankful for their incredibly diverse and important perspectives that stretch and challenge me. Who are those powerful mentors in your life?
We are living in a pivotal chapter of our nation’s story. A tumultuous time in biblical history holds great perspective for us as we navigate significant changes in America today. The story of God’s people in the Old Testament, like the experiences of people throughout history, is riddled with conflict, challenges, and change.
One of the most dramatic seasons of change for Judah was undoubtedly the Babyonian invasion, and resulting exile, that occurred beginning in 607 B.C. The first chapter of the book of Daniel recounts the initial invasion: "In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia." We can only imagine the anguish and distress these couple of sentences represented for the people of God. It is difficult for us as believers today to understand all that the temple meant to God’s people then.
Verse two of chapter one says: “And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God.” The dramatic devastation and change in the lives of His people was not a surprise to God. In fact, the Scripture says that it was the Lord who gave Nebuchadezzar success. Twenty years after this initial invasion, Nebuchadnezzar succeeded in capturing Jerusalem and destroying the temple.
The meaning and traditions tied to the temple, articles from the temple, and the city of Jerusalem are monumental, as ongoing conflicts yet today testify. Nonetheless, God allowed an ungodly leader’s success in capturing, destroying and carrying off key elements of worship and religion in Judah. Why? What can we learn from Judah’s history as we navigate our own season of transition?
America is in significant cultural upheaval. Perspectives are changing. Values that were once held dear are being discarded. Established institutions and methods are being questioned and often rejected. In the midst of the ensuing chaos, the church is being forced to grapple with significant questions. In many cases, it can feel like the temple has been invaded, that the articles of the temple are being carried off into a foreign land by strangers who do not appreciate what they represent. The battering rams are pounding on the gates, and every faith-based institution--from missions agencies, to churches, schools, non-profit organizations, seminaries, publishing houses, and advocacy groups--is facing an identity crisis. I imagine some of the emotions felt by Christian leaders today reflect those of Judah’s leaders when the Babylonian soldiers entered Jerusalem.
Here is what encourages me: God was not shocked by Nebuchadezzar’s actions, and God is definitely not surprised by the changes we are facing today! In fact, Scripture points to the fact that many who went into exile prospered where God had placed them (Jeremiah 29). Of course, it was not what they wanted, but it was what they needed. Decades later, when God opened the door for some of them to return to Judah and rebuild Jerusalem, there was a renewed sense of purpose, focus, and dedication to the Lord.
The book of Daniel continues with the story of Daniel and his three faithful friends. Carried from Judah to Babylon, and forced into service in the king’s palace, these young men represented a transitional generation. They developed as leaders in the midst of upheaval for their people and led in a place and culture foreign to the mentors and leaders of their youth. In this regard, I believe they resemble young leaders today. God is raising up a remnant of young, godly leaders who will succeed as Daniel and his friends did in leading faithfully in the midst of adverse or complex situations. They are a Daniel Generation. Theirs is not an easy path; it will require sacrifice, wisdom, surrender and faith. In some ways, young people today are poorly equipped for the challenges they will face. This is where inter-generational understanding, mentoring, collaboration and leadership are critical. Leaders of all ages must engage to seek timely wisdom, and share perspectives, skills, and truths that will be needed in the days ahead.
It is important to note that if Daniel and his friends had refused to learn the language and literature of their new culture, they would have been ineffective. Instead, they successfully advised and served powerful and ungodly leaders in the land. For young leaders today, the challenge is to walk as Daniel did. He did not succumb to the influences and temptations of the culture around him, yet he did learn to navigate it and allow God to use him within it. We need the wisdom and favor that God gave Daniel to walk with truth, grace, and influence. It is time for a Daniel Generation to live and serve faithfully amid an ungodly culture, in humility glorifying the one true God!
Tim Elmore, in his book Generation iY, explains the fact that most young people today learn and interact through “uploading.” They engage in forums and activities via devices where they can share opinions, perspectives and preferences, and receive instant feedback. Nonetheless, many of our formal leadership and learning environments continue to implement “downloading” methods to engage, lead and teach those in our care. We talk at people, give orders or directions, and provide important information without stopping to receive input, give explanations or engage in discussion.
Once upon a time, not that long ago, many lived by the motto that children were to be seen and not heard. That philosophy was applied to many in "follower" positions such as students, soldiers or employees. While this perhaps made life easier for those parenting, teaching, or managing, it could result in decisions or information based on limited understanding. The ideas and desires of those in leadership roles were "downloaded" to the followers and silent obedience was often expected. Some leaders still adhere to this top-down approach to managing followers.
Since childhood, Millennials and Generation Z have been taught and encouraged to be seen and heard! They are accustomed to having input…whether it is choosing a favorite game on their device, posting a response on social media, or texting their vote to a favorite television show, they are uploading generations. If we want young members to feel engaged and committed to our teams, whether in the office, pew or classroom, we must allow participation, discussion, and “uploading.”
While there are some negative consequences from this need to be heard, there are also many benefits. Active participation can lead to increased creativity, understanding of diverse perspectives, and greater engagement and ownership. Regardless of the pros and cons, leaders today must understand that those they lead or teach are used to "uploading." Failure to provide opportunities for them to do so limits our ability to gain respect and earn the right to speak constructively into the lives of those around us. At times we need to address the negative aspects of our "uploading" culture. First, however, we must prove we are leaders who intentionally listen to those we lead.
Ideas for "uploading" as a leader:
*Ask open-ended questions regularly; allow the time and space to actively listen and ask follow up questions as we learn from those on our teams.
*Be sure that training and learning experiences incorporate as much discussion and active participation (uploading) as lecture and instruction (downloading).
*Request ideas, and when possible and appropriate, allow students or employees to pursue a course of action they value (even if it seems a bit problematic). Encouragingly help them navigate the challenges or consequences of the decision/action. This can help teach effective decision making, critical thinking and problem solving, equipping future leaders with needed understanding and skills.
*After listening to the input of others, there will be times when as a leader you need to make an unpopular or hard decision. When this occurs, explain your reasons, and honestly engage and answer questions. This becomes a mentoring opportunity and demonstrates transparency.
One of my 3-year-olds beckoned me excitedly over to her toy oven. We squatted down next to it and peered through the tiny clear plastic door. After a few moments, she made a “ding” sound and removed her playdoh “cake.” After setting it on the table and sticking it with a fork (my preferred makeshift cake tester), she started walking back to the toy oven. Confused, I asked her what she was doing. “It not done yet, just a little bit longer!” Suddenly the significance of the moment hit me. She was imitating, step by step, what typically happens when I am baking. From peering through the oven door, to testing the cake’s doneness, to my usual explanation for why a treat is not yet ready to consume. As I returned to washing the dishes, I could not shake this profound reminder that young people around us are always watching and always learning.
I recently heard a leadership presentation where the speaker explained that there are three significant ways we communicate what we value. The first is conversation, what we say. The second is our calendar, where we invest our time. The third is cash, where we spend our money. As I reflected on my daughter’s natural response to imitate my behaviors, I was challenged to reflect on what values my conversation, calendar and cash communicate, and how they are influencing, intentionally or unintentionally, the young people around me.
What we talk about, and when we talk about it, communicates our values. What do I say about other people when they are not around? This is perhaps one of the most powerful indicators of our values. Do I communicate respect for those who are not present in what I say about them? Do I show what it means to be a trustworthy and life-giving friend, employer, teacher, spouse or parent by where and how I verbally process challenges, frustrations, or doubts in those relationships? Do people around me think more creatively and critically, feel encouraged or inspired, and know they were heard after talking to me? How we converse with people around us daily conveys volumes about our values, and models for children, students, and young employees what is appropriate, acceptable, and professional!
Time is so precious and yet sometimes we become responsive versus proactive in how we use it. Take a few minutes and map out how you spend your time. Besides sleep and required work hours, what are your top three values as indicated by the quality or quantity of time you invest in them? If you are a parent, map out your child’s time. Our society often pressures us to prioritize a traveling team, that elite school, or some potential scholarship opportunity. We can become responsive to these demands. While it is valuable for kids to learn teamwork, discipline and excellence, we often see priorities like family time, our faith community, and relaxation edged out of our schedules. We then grieve when kids hide behind technology on family vacations, walk away from God and faith, and experience high anxiety. As we practice balance in the use of our time, we can model and help young people around us as they learn to manage their calendar.
I recently read an article about how much parents are spending as kids head back to school. It was stunning. I couldn’t help but wonder what we tell kids if we put a new smartphone or designer shoes on a credit card. The message we send about appearance, convenience or preference being more important than debt is powerful. As employers, we send a message when we give raises to certain people or improve specific spaces, but not others. We need to be intentional in those messages and ensure they represent what we say we value.
My husband and I recently made some significant decisions that allow us more time with our kids, but require us to cut back on the things we can buy for them. One morning, we were really questioning our decision. I left the house that day to do some work while my husband stayed home with the kids. When I walked in the door that afternoon, one of the girls ran up to me and announced, “Mommy, I SO happy!!!” I asked why and she responded, “I got to play with my daddy all day!” As those influencing the next generation, we sometimes need them to remind us the most valuable things in life cannot be purchased and are worth intentionally prioritizing.
It happened again just last week. A gentleman at a roundtable I was facilitating made the argument that Millennials are just like any other generation. There are indeed life cycle effects—things that are similar for every generation at specific seasons of life. Most of us know better than everyone else when we are 25, right?! However, there are period and cohort effects that give each generation unique perspectives. The recession of 2008 could be considered a period effect…how it influenced a 22-year-old who had $50,000 in student loans and no job prospects was different than how it affected a 60-year-old who lost their job of 30 years and half of their retirement savings. One result for that 22-year-old is that he or she is unlikely to have the same confidence as older generations to commit 30 years to one job or rely on the stability of investing in a home or retirement funds. Unfortunately, this will often be criticized as irresponsibility or a lack of commitment, rather than a survival instinct!
While period effects, how events influence us at specific points in our life, are significant to the development of any generational cohort, I believe it is the cohort effects that truly make Millennials one of the most unique generations in American history. Cohort effects are how trends influence us during critical developmental stages of life. When we look at Millennials, we see the confluence of several incredibly significant changes occurring in our culture and society as they were in formative seasons of life. This has resulted in not just a generation gap between them and older generations, but also a cultural gap. The resulting worldview emerging in younger generations today is fundamentally different from that of previous generations.
So, what are the cohort effects most influential in the development of Millennials (and following generations)? Of course things like technology and globalization have been significant. Research is now showing that the brains of young people who have been exposed to technology since young ages, for extended periods of time, are actually wired differently. We know that the way communication occurs now is different. In many ways there is nothing new under the sun, but the way old issues manifest has changed. For example, there is still marital infidelity. Whereas an affair was more likely to occur for a working parent at the office while putting in long hours, it is now just as likely for an emotional affair to involve a stay-at-home parent who reconnects with an old friend on social media. While Millennials were introduced to many forms of technology much later in their lives than Generation Z, they represent the first generation of digital natives.
Philosophies of parenting and education also underwent significant changes as Millennials were born. Many of these trends are continuing with Generation Z. Of course, involved parenting, often termed “helicopter parenting,” has been perhaps the most significant of these trends. The self-esteem movement, where everyone gets a trophy, is closely related. Another significant trend that receives less attention is the focus on student-centered learning in education, which has added to the societal focus on providing what a child wants or needs. Like other trends, it has at times stripped young people of opportunities to learn how to overcome obstacles, solve problems on their own, or deal with failure and disappointment.
Most significant of the cohort effects, however, is the fact that Millennials represent the first generation of post-modern natives. Peter Drucker, in his book Post-Capitalist Society, explains, “Every few hundred years in Western history there occurs a sharp transformation…society rearranges itself…its worldview; its basic values; its social and political structure; its arts; its key institutions…we are currently living through just such a transformation.” Postmodernism, a response to the failing promises of the modern era, with its reliance on systems, science, logic and reason to solve our problems, has been the impetus for this transformation. David Harvey, in his book The Condition of Postmodernity, describes, “Somewhere between 1968 and 1972, we see postmodernism emerge as a full-blown though still incoherent movement out of the chrysalis of the anti-modern movement of the 1960s.”
So, what does this post-modern movement mean for Millennials? As it unfolded in the 1960s and 1970s, it gradually worked its influence into the fabric of our society. By the time Millennials began arriving in the 1980s, post-modern ideas were firmly at work in our education system, media and popular culture. Millennials are the first generation to be raised with predominantly post-modern values. While some of them still identify with modern values based on their particular upbringing or education, they belong to a peer culture that adheres to a post-modern worldview, a peer group of post-modern natives.
What are some of the key differences between a modern mindset and a post-modern perspective? As mentioned earlier, the modern era relied heavily on science, logic and facts. Postmodernity values experience, emotion and stories. As a result, decisions made by Millennials and Generation Z are often influenced by feelings versus reason. The rigid systems, hierarchies and structures of modernity are giving way to organic processes, open participation, and networks. Collaborative education has taught students the value of working together, engaging in a process, sometimes without concern for a specific outcome or result. Perhaps the most significant difference is related to views of truth. Modern perspectives held to absolute truth that could be discovered and proven. Postmodern perspectives hold pluralistic views of truth to be equal and believe they are defined in the context of community. As a result, we often find those of older generations strongly committed to their views of truth, whereas younger generations are much more open-minded, but can struggle to articulate personal convictions.
While there are many more differences and nuances, the points above begin to illustrate the fact that we are truly facing a cross-cultural gap as we seek engage across generations. This gap does not always neatly fall along generational lines, with many older individuals identifying with postmodern views and some younger ones still grounded in modern perspectives. However, Millennials are unique as they represent the turning point, the cusp of the transformation occurring in our society, the first cohort of postmodern natives.
Social media. Whether you love it or hate it, Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are a part of relationships in our society today. I am a writer and researcher, and part of my job is considering the implications of these forms of communication on how we think and interact. However, that does not mean I am exempt from their effects. Recently, I have found myself reflecting on how my social media use influences my thoughts, perspectives, and emotions…and, I must admit, I don’t always like my realizations.
While I enjoy social media for its ability to keep me connected to friends and family around the world, inform me of the joys and sorrows of those I love, and provide perspectives from real people, I find myself struggling against some of its influences. It is often difficult to avoid comparing my life to others, being frustrated or disappointed in some posts that I see, being distracted checking updates, and thinking of activities or people around me for their “postable” value, rather than just completely enjoying moments and interactions. I have to admit, there are days that social media takes more from my relationships than it gives.
One of the weaknesses of social media is its ability to distance us from real people and their emotions and needs. In a face-to-face conversation, a pregnant friend would be cautious to narrate her pregnancy experiences to a friend who was struggling with infertility or who had recently experienced a miscarriage. We would not celebrate our child’s academic success to a loved one whose child was experiencing severe learning disabilities. Likewise, we wouldn’t brag about new purchases or expensive vacations to a neighbor who had just lost his or her job, or our weight loss and workout routine to a friend who was struggling with health issues. Such behavior is self-centered, insensitive and hurtful. Nonetheless, innocent posts on social media can have the same effect. Of course, the broad audience we interact with via social media makes it hard to always consider individual perspectives and needs, but I think most of us can admit we need to consider others more when we share information.
Too often, I post something because it is a point I want to make, something I want to celebrate, or a moment I want to share. While that is not necessarily bad, if my considerations when posting are primarily about me…what I want or how I feel…then perhaps my motives need to be reexamined. Consistently putting my desires or needs first is destructive in any relational interaction, including those on social media.
In the book of Romans chapter 14, Paul is talking to believers in Rome. There had arisen differences regarding the requirements of the law as it related to dietary restrictions and the Sabbath. It struck me as I read Paul’s advice to the Romans on how to relate to one another, that his words apply to us in relating to one another today. In verse 13 he says, “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.” Can we always avoid hurting or offending others? Of course not. The point, however, is our intentions and priorities. I have to ask myself, am I choosing to consider the needs, perspectives and feelings of others? When I share something on social media, what are my goals and who am I thinking of first?
While social media is truly a wonderful tool, like any tool, it has be to be used well or it can become destructive. We need to be thoughtful regarding the effect social media is having on us and relationships in our lives. Sometimes changes in our habits or perspectives are needed, for ourselves, as well as those who are watching us as they learn to navigate healthy relationships and communication with technology.
Dr. Jolene Erlacher is a wife, mommy, author, speaker, college instructor and coffee drinker who is passionate about empowering the next generation of leaders for effective service!