‘Talkin’ ‘Bout My Generation’: Generationalism in Medicine

Such generalizations are invalidated all the time. Allen Ginsberg, perhaps the best-known of the beat poets and the author of Howl, qualified as a Traditionalist. Many of the most prominent figures in the rise of Silicon Valley, including Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, were Baby Boomers, a group supposedly reluctant to change. Gen X, which is marked by a resistance to share information, includes Twitter founder Jack Dorsey.

I see stereotypes like these contradicted regularly at work. Young medical students who supposedly resent working hard go above and beyond the call of duty. They exceed the faculty’s expectations, teaching even those who think they have seen it all something new. They make sacrifices at work for the sake of their families, and they make sacrifices at home to care for patients and help colleagues. Though supposedly addicted to multi-tasking and smart phones, they display a remarkable capacity to set other concerns aside and focus completely on the patient before them.

To be human is to be tempted to categorize and pigeonhole people, to adopt shortcuts that relieve us of the burden of really getting to know and understand those around us. But in the end, it represents a lamentable form of sloth. To save ourselves the trouble of finding out for ourselves, to justify our own uneasy sense of self-worth, or simply to gorge on the forbidden fruit of presumed superiority and self-satisfaction, we pretend that highly heterogeneous people are all alike.

To the moral failings of bigotry we should add generationalism. People should not be defined by the color of their skin, the faith tradition in which they were raised, whether their genotype is XX or XY, or the generation into which they were born. The goal in learning about others is not to dismiss but to get to know them – not just as members of some category or class, but as distinctive human beings who, given the opportunity, can likely defy our expectations.

The Conversation

Richard Gunderman is Professor of Medicine, Liberal Arts, and Philanthropy at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.

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