OK, Boomer. I’d like you to think back when you were at the same stage of life as Millennials are today.
We’re talking roughly anywhere from, say, 25 to 40 years old.
OK, Boomer, now that you’ve time-traveled to a few decades ago, think of how you will react if your parent, or one of their peers, criticizes a decision you’ve made, or presumes to tell you how to live your life. Why would they do such a thing? Because they know better than you. How do they know better? Because they’ve been around longer than you.
OK, Boomer, let’s call out the elephant in the room: being older in and of itself does not automatically make you know better or know more. It means you know what is unique to your experience. That does not make your experience a universal truth; it makes it your specific truth.
That sums up how I view the OK, Boomer phenomenon. It’s no news at this point that those seemingly innocuous two words have taken on a life of their own in our culture.
Several companies even have applied to the U.S. Patent Office to trademark the expression (though none of the applications are expected to be approved). Everything from T-shirts to a TV show (in development) is latching on to the catchphrase OK, Boomer. Where are the OK, MillennialTM T-shirts?!
Whether it’s OK, Boomer or the inevitable response in kind—OK, Millennial— the hugely popular meme is little more than lazy shorthand that encourages the intended recipient to close their mind and ears to what is being said by the other generation.
Let’s keep in mind that the short-but-not-sweet OK, Boomer didn’t surface in a vacuum. A case can be made that a certain breed of Boomer brought it on themselves, the price to be paid for acting as self-appointed, overbearing lecturers. You reap what you sow.
Generation Splicing Is the Answer
The importance of generations coming together and communicating better is a passion I have long pursued. That’s why it’s a recurring theme in my book Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer (ForbesBooks, 2019).
For many years, I’ve advocated and practiced the twin theories of Mutual Mentoring and Generation Splicing (think gene splicing) as a way for Boomers and Millennials to learn from each other. The biggest barrier to that succeeding is failing to do what I titled one of the most important chapters in the book: Listening.
It’s true that wisdom can, and should, come with age. What’s not always true is the assumption that your particular wisdom is relevant or helpful to someone else. Case in point: I just watched a boorish Boomer in a social media video spew some nonsense that the Millennial lifestyle is “not sustainable.”
I couldn’t help but think, “You know what’s not sustainable? Listening to someone like you make gross generalizations about an entire generation. OK, Boomer?”
Context counts for a lot, too. If that bloviating Boomer’s remarks were in the form of friendly advice, like a helpful suggestion, it may not have fallen on deaf ears or been greeted with well-deserved groans. Instead, his baseless opinion was delivered in a holier-than-thou voice of disapproval, prompting even me to turn him off because he turned me off.
Try the Reverse Point of View
I find it’s helpful to put yourself in the place of the other person before making a snap judgment, let alone before oversharing your judgment of that person with that person. Regardless of your generation, instead of seeing things only from your vantage point, try seeing them from the reverse point of view. OK, Millennial?
Go into the conversation with the expectation you can learn as much from the other generation as they can learn from you. Each side has a responsibility to be mature and play nice. It’s a balancing act, not a competition for who can insult the other side more cleverly—or succinctly.
If your advice is solicited, great! Have at it. And be positive, not punitive. However, if the person you’re taking to school isn’t asking you to be their life coach, then don’t be surprised if they lower the boom. OK, Boomer? OK, Millennial? OK! Now let’s KO the OKs.
To learn more about Fisch Tales: The Making of a Millennial Baby Boomer — which includes many “School of Fisch Lessons” that can help anybody of any age — visit MillennialBabyBoomer.com.