The Cantankerous Critic: “The Greatest Generation – Generation X?”

 By Scott Keith


The lovely and talented Mrs. Koch, upon becoming tired of all my bitching about Millennials and Baby Boomers, recently said to me: “You’re so good at criticizing other generations; you should criticize our generation once and a while.” The essential question on her mind, I think, was: “Why don’t you say what is wrong with us?” As I thought about it, I decided the reason I don’t harp on Generations X folks all that much is because we are already so castigated that we don’t really need one more person telling us how much we suck.

18e9f0a0e9b12387a1e6713d557d7d9c75ea52110fac9257fb3a378cac5346b7Keep this in mind, there are currently four generations vying for position in our culture and one biting at the heals of the others. The Builders, or as Tom Brokaw named them, the Greatest Generation are those who were born prior to 1946. There were 56 million builders and they are famous for winning wars, going to college in mass numbers, building the modern American infrastructure, and making America the economic giant it once was, or maybe still is. The Baby Boomers, born 1946-1964 are 80 million strong. Yes… 80 million! They are known for changing the world with free love, drugs, civil rights, women’s liberation, and rock and roll music. Though some were hippies at one point, most eventually went to college, got a well-paying job which included a generous retirement package, and now pine away counting every moment until that blessed day comes. Skipping a generation, Millennials born 1978-1996 are also about 80 million strong. The make up more than a quarter of the nation’s entire population. Their parents had the bumper stickers claiming that every one of their children made the honor roll. Yeah! Technology, group projects, Columbine and the fear surrounding 9/11 have colored how they were raised. Safety, security (they don’t mind airport security lines), and self-esteem are very important to them. They are entering the workforce in hordes. Again, Yeah!! Generation O comes after Millennials and is made up of everyone born after 1997. Few have been brave enough to attempt to figure them out yet.


Now, on to Mrs. Koch’s question… What about Generation X? Born 1965-1977 Generation X numbers only about 38 million. Growing up Generation X was influenced by the Gulf War, AIDS, an ever expanding divorce rate, as well as mom going back to work, which meant that both parents were working. Recently, Generation X has become known for racking up exorbitant amounts of student loan debt to go to college in an economy that has few jobs that pay enough for them to service that debt. Unlike Millennials who were never let out of their helicopter parent’s sight, Generation X children were left alone so much that they were labeled “Latch Key Kids.” Generation X learned to take care of themselves. This, among other things, has made Generation X distrustful of their parents, and thereby any parental figure at all, including supervisors at work. Generation X is outnumbered and powerless in a cross generational decision making process, and we know it. In the modern workforce, there will be about 4 Baby Boomers and Millennials to every one Gen X(er). If you’ve ever attended a staff meeting at work or church board meeting as a Gen X(er), you know you will be outvoted if the issue at hand comes to a vote. This fact makes Generation X cynical and it often seems as though we are jaded. As a result, relationships, friendships, and attachment are hard for us as we struggle to find a partner or friends that we believe we can really trust. We hate what we see as arbitrary rules and are constantly finding new ways to break them. Generation X(ers) don’t try to get around rules like a Baby Boomer would do, we want to BREAK them. Think of it this way: The Builders literally built the proverbial box, Baby Boomers thought outside the box, Generation X smashed the box with a sledge hammer and then stomped it into a million pieces with their combat boots to the tune of Punk Rock music, and Millennials don’t even realize there is or ever was a box. (Side note: in my opinion, Generation O seems to reminisce about the days of the box.)


So, in answer to the question, “what is wrong with us?” I would say, we are broken sinners in need of redemption won for us on account of Christ just like everyone else. So what makes Generation X the greatest generation? The answer is simple; we know we are broken. The message of the Gospel can be a great relief to a Gen X(er) because we are often keenly aware of the state of our depravity. Our culture did not tell Generation X that we are wonderful in every way (a not so veiled slight at the Millennials who are constantly told they are wonderful at everything that they actually suck at). Generation X is broken, and we know it. If you believe the Gospel accounts, it seems like Christ came to save the broken. This is good news to me, a sometimes jaded, mostly cantankerous and always broken Gen X(er).

* Many thanks to my colleague at CUI, Chip Espenoza whose book Managing Millenials provided the generational statistical data. See, Chip Espenoza, Mick Ukleja, Craig Rusch, Managing Millennials – Discover the Core Competencies for Managing Today’s Workforce (Hoboken: John Wiley and Sons, 2010), 5-7.