Criticisms and reservations towards younger generations are almost as old as time. Identifying, baptizing, and finally categorizing the new generations each year – also in terms of mentality – seems nevertheless new : Millennials, Generation Y, Generation Z, Baby-boomers, Generation Maybe… the list is long. The classification and assessment of age cohorts, quickly transposed into “generations” both to attract public attention and nostalgia, seem to correspond to a need to classify people into a group in order to get an insight into who works how. However, it is rare for this to arouse widespread opposition from people who are – often inaccurately – so sorted and denigrated. This is why the long-awaited debate is absent and the labels affixed to different generations are, on the other hand, obstinate. Finally, there are only catch-all classifications, which admittedly allow their inventors to create articles on Wikipedia, but which also induce a form of stress linked to this boundary for the majority of the younger generation.
A new world, an old value system ?
Over the past two or three decades, the tendency to stick labels over generations has distinctly increased. As soon as one attempts to classify the age groups morally, economically and politically, their opposites then emerge which invalidate (at least partially) the previously formulated hypotheses. In our current society, a multitude of social trends coexist: it is thus increasingly difficult to draw clear boundaries, which means that any overly simplistic classification that aims to attract attention in the form of a stereotyped shortcut simply does not stick.
This isn’t surprising as the world we live in, and the conditions that result from it, are increasingly opaque and partly contradictory. On top of that, the benchmarks perceived as constant in this complex world of perpetual change are also changing faster : the global network is growing, urbanization is progressing hand in hand with globalization. Technical advances, and more particularly digitalization, are constantly evolving. New life projects are now possible, partly thanks to newly acquired freedoms, but also due to demographic and economic factors. For example, a Swiss woman’s life expectancy has increased by 50% over the past 70 years. What may seem abstract, however, has important implications for welfare, the health system, and way of life. The latter has become, and will always become, more individual : Now in Switzerland, twice as many people live alone than 30 years ago. Their personal demands and living environment increase ; competition with all who have those same aspirations. These changes bring new challenges, big or small.
But when there are challenges, new opportunities also emerge. And where citizens’ lifestyles become more heterogeneous, the potential for freedom grows. Some fellow citizens feel overwhelmed by these changes ; conservative minds, attached to order, even consider many of these new freedoms as negative as individualism is too often likened to selfishness. Why?
“For the first time in the history of mankind, individuals have the privilege of aspiring after an interesting vocation and shaping their lives accordingly”, assures Saul Wurman, founder of TED Talks. This is true not only for private life, but also for professional life. Having the freedom to live independently is an important achievement of our parents’ generation – but as successors, we now have a duty to do something productive with these inherited freedoms and the resulting confusion. Some are doing better than others, but the demands in terms of individual responsibility and initiative have increased to the same extent for all of us. And it is surely a force for the younger generations to have learned very early on to manage the new world’s uncertainties. If the Baby Boomers have learned one thing, it is that nothing is more certain than uncertainty.
It is, of course, tedious that due to the increase in flexibility requirements, supposed “guarantees” are diminishing, for example, regarding the planning of one’s own future. Being able to detach from simpler previous structures may also be perceived as an inconvenient pressure. However, at the same time, our resilience increases because we accept new situations more quickly and are physically more resistant to change. In a rapidly evolving era such as ours, such adaptive capacities are indispensable. Yet, we are often described as “undecided” by older people as we must take time to weigh the pros and cons of different options that did not exist before. Our supposed difficulty in making decisions is – from this point of view – a logical by-product of the rapid growth of the field of possibilities ; Because, as the catchphrase says so well : «Your choices are endless».
So much can suddenly emerge from a single life project for each stage of life. Those who want to reinvent themselves still need courage, but it will still be easier for them today because social models have become much more flexible. I can chooseto live a marginal life in a VW bus without being regarded as a hippie or going into a career without being labeleda “careerist”. Making the right choice becomes, paradoxically, easier and more difficult at the same time. Because, when there is a greater choice, it is necessary to make a better selection. But honestly, is this not an astounding “problem”, perhaps unique in the history of mankind? I can work in an office or café, I can continue to teach myself when necessary or change certain arrangements of my job, when possible.. I can go on vacation in a hotel or search on the Couch Surfingpage for more personal housing. I can take an interest in a culture or rather join a sports club. Maybe both at once or neither of the two. However, I must think twice about how I want to face all these options as I am aware that these choices will affect both me and my environment. This so-called difficulty of choosing is a kind of emancipation movement because more decisions, which go beyond the simple question of survival, require an individual moral examination. Do I get organic bananas from the discount store? Do I buy local ? Which yogurt should I purchase if I want to support African farmers? These decisions that we take today, even several times a day, are perceived as non-political activities. We think more and more about micro-solutions and less in collective terms, in political camps or in “big leaps forward”.
Young people do not become more indifferent – by global change, some subjects simply take over others or take a more direct stature when it comes to freely trading and contributing to the improvement of social and community life or, more broadly, worldwide living. We know and accept a static quality of life less and less, which could only be eased by political interventions and which the previous generations often had to simply “endure”. For these reasons, our decisions, at the supermarket, at work, or in our book club, must be well thought out.
It appears that politics, for us, are everywhere in the clear majority of our decisions, but surprisingly less in the ballot boxes. Politics remain – as explained above- to be more often the domain of older people and more particularly, old men. That is why it continues to function according to the old categorization of parties, in which things are politicized according to the principle “He who is not with me is against me”. However, this vision seems ever more foreign to us because of our experiences. The fact that young people are rarely faced with phenomena such as Emmanuel Macron, Operation Libero or the Green Liberal Party, but many others feel a real unease in the rise of these forces, illustrates, however that once again, things are slowly beginning to change.
This is good news, but it is clear that if we want to guarantee the future of Switzerland and go beyond the old blocks and restraints- in complete freedom- we must progress in the political sphere. The decisions taken today determine the limits of our freedoms tomorrow. If we do not want the choice of good yogurt to remain the most decisive political decision in our lives, it is time to engage more strongly in politics to defend our aspirations.