As America trudges through its “fourth winter,” economist and futurist Rebecca Ryan believes post-war generations, from baby boomers to Generation X down to millennials, need to work together to create a spring worth inheriting for those to come.
Ryan, the keynote speaker for Greater Spokane Incorporated’s annual meeting Thursday, said America is seasonal, shifting every 80 to 100 years. “We are currently in our fourth winter,” she said – the first being three being the American Revolution, Civil War and Great Depression.
The last spring came after the end of World War II.
“We could all exhale at this point,” Ryan said to a sold-out crowd of 930 that included leaders of business, nonprofits and area politicians. During this time baby boomers were born, suburban life started to prosper and America was full of “hope and possibilities,” she said.
The summer that followed from 1965-1980 was a time when people began to question things such as segregation, gender inequality and pollution, she said. Then came the fall from 1981-2000, when Generation X was growing up, she said, and “they don’t trust anyone” as they were brought up under the ideas of “stranger danger.”
“Fall is when things start feeling like they’re literally falling apart,” Ryan said.
Then came the present winter, and the birth and growth of the millennials. “A time when things feel frozen and stuck,” Ryan said. But she said this is also the time people are able to hibernate and reflect.
“What are we here for and who are we here for and with,” she said. “This is what happens during the winter, we ask the hard questions. … We refresh and regenerate.”
Ryan referred to the #MeToo movement as an example.
“We are right on time for things to feel broken,” she said.
Even with the fear in this country and the focus on self, it is crucial to remember that each generation will carry on, “but how we show up as people with power is what matters,” Ryan said.
“Try as we might, we are not going to be living in the past,” Ryan said. “There is a bug in the code to how we go forward into the future.” Adding, she believes leaders already know what they need to do but haven’t had the kick in the pants to get going.
Ryan said a simple step the community can take to begin is every time a group gets together to make a decision or take a vote, leave an empty seat at the table. The vacant chair represents a 6-year-old and what effect any decision will have on his or her future.
“Be intentional to who is at that table,” she said.
This recognition of the different generations is key to Ryan’s outlook on the future, because “we all have to do this together.”
For baby boomers, Ryan said, “we don’t need you to be thinking about being young forever.
“We need your wisdom. We need your guidance. … But we are hoping you’ll put the microphone down.”
For Generation X, she said, they have given America John Stewart, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler and irony. “That is a great gift, but we have to stop having fun and make some decisions.”
Ryan said Generation X is the bridge between what was and what will be. “You speak boomer and millennial,” she said.
Millennials have incredible power, Ryan said, because as a country we are infatuated with youth.
“They know they’re inheriting a crap sandwich. But because of respect for their elders, they won’t say anything,” she said.
The difference between these generations is that millennials know how to mobilize and socialize, but lack the wisdom, Ryan said, and that is where baby boomers and Generation X can step up.
“We are making a historic transition. What, who and how we do this, it needs to be different,” she said. “If you’re willing to let go (of the past) and be open, then all my money is on you.”
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