The younger generation in Canada, according to a study by EKOS Research Associates, are not only different from those of us over 40, but so different that many of society’s institutions — not least churches — need to sit up and take notice. Pollster Frank Graves proclaims, “the ingredients are there for a radical paradigm shift.”
Is this something that should make us 40-plussers nervous? We know all about paradigm shifts, having, after all, engineered one of our own. For those of us who came of age in the 1960s, The Times They Are a-Changin’ was not just a song by Bob Dylan, it was our anthem — “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, and don’t criticize what you can’t understand.” The specifics of this change were a bit vague, though that didn’t bother anybody. We knew in our guts exactly what it meant, so the word itself became mantra enough. It did, however, bother our parents, as well as politicians, university administrators and those with power over the status quo. And that thrilled us as well.
Now it is our turn to scramble. For many of us, our first impulse is to do as our parents did, which is to use the “experience” argument to keep the next gang at bay. Television ads for Grey Power reassure me that my years of driving experience entitle me to lower car insurance rates than what those young, unseasoned drivers pay. In the U.S. primary election campaigns, Hillary Clinton knocked Barack Obama for his supposed inexperience.
Yet the argument has limited appeal. Before long, the time of reduced insurance rates will be superseded by the dreaded day when the driver’s licence is taken away altogether. And in spite of Clinton’s message, young Americans have flocked to Obama. It’s hard to keep the floodgates of time shut.
A true seismic change doesn’t necessarily hit every generation. A certain ferment needs to be in place, a demographic shift, a cultural realignment that prepares the ground. Then there has to be leadership, both cultural and political. At this writing, it is too early to know exactly how the politics south of the border will play out. There could be a true generational shift, or there could be a 72-year-old president with roots deep in the 1960s and the grey power generation. But if we take researchers like Graves at their word, the inevitability is there. The group waiting to come through the door is more pluralistic, tolerant of immigrants, internationalist in outlook and outreach, ethnically diverse. Add to that colour-blind, anti-war, less paranoid about terrorism, not terribly ideological, more mobile, less attached to geographical space and, in Canada, less invested in the traditional concept of two founding nations. They possess an almost reflexive environmental consciousness and a sense of justice based in universal human rights. Their ascendancy, when it finally coalesces, will affect politics, universities and businesses.
It is also bound to affect churches, both as institutions and as a mandate based on the shared beliefs that bring people together. What is it that might undergo redefinition? Whatever it is, it’s bound to set the older people in the pews on edge.
It’s going to be exciting. Wish everybody well.
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