A medical colleague was shaking his head in disgust. “What is wrong with these medical students today?” he asked. “They just don’t have the same work ethic they used to. In our day, we didn’t have to be coddled. They told us what work had to be done and we did it – no questions asked. But today students need someone to hold their hand and explain why they are being asked to do each little thing. These Gen Xers and Millennials – what does all this talk about meaning and work-life balance really amount to when a patient is suffering cardiopulmonary arrest at 3am?”
Everyone needs space to blow off a little steam once in a while, and I’m as tolerant as anyone to the occasional rant. But my colleague’s comments were not isolated. Both inside and outside the halls of medical schools, this kind of talk is no longer exceptional.
In fact, it is becoming the rule. Whole groups of similarly aged people, who are probably as different from one another as any group in history, are clumped together in generations as though they were clones of a single stereotype. And what begins as an offhand remark often quickly becomes doctrine.
Generationalism bears many similarities to other forms of discrimination, and its effects are no less pernicious. It stigmatizes a whole group of people simply by an accident of birth. Millennials (1981-2000) are typically characterized as me-first, self-absorbed and technophilic. Gen Xers (1966-1980) are suspicious of authority, pampered and operate with a sense of entitlement.