Friday, February 11, 2011

A Boomer is not a Boomer is not a Boomer

I have done a lot of different psychological assessments in my career; in fact I am qualified to use several different types. One of the things which I have learned is that no one assessment can possibly describe an individual. By using several tests for one person you will come closer to finding out who they are but still not be able to predict behavior on any one occasion. This is why I have a schizophrenic relationship with the labels we put on people and groups.
As no one assessment describes a person, labels cannot describe a group. We human beings are just too complicated. On the one hand labels are just nouns. Nouns describe a person, place or thing. They are a useful albeit necessary shortcut in our communications. I understood when Mother said “Use your fork.” We only had one kind of fork so that was not a problem. However, as I grew older I encountered dessert forks, fish forks, two tined fondue forks, and many different types of designs in of silverware. Now a fork is a much more complicated idea.

“Boomers” is an interesting label. It represents a group of people born between the WW2 and 1964, all 8.8 million born in Canada and those who immigrated here as children during that period. It represents the largest birth rate increase that the world has seen. While Boomers are essentially a North American phenomenon the advent of TV and other world-wide communications tools spread the culture internationally.

It comes to my mind that there are a few flaws in the labelling of all these people as if they were the same. In the first place the age spread itself creates differences. My brother is eight years older than I am, we are very different and we were raised in the same family. Add to the age factor, the differences caused by different geographical acculturation and differences increase by an order of magnitude. Now let’s add in the personality differences of preferences, attitudes, beliefs, prejudices and motivations, and it becomes obvious that this label is next to useless on an individual basis.

Michael Adams in his book Staying Alive has divided Canadian Boomers into four separate tribes based on Environics surveys. He calls them “Disengaged Darwinists”, “Anxious Communitarians”, “Connected Enthusiasts” and “Autonomous Rebels”:-

Disengaged Darwinists:
43.8% of boomers
13.3 % of all Canadians
4.4 million people
58% Male            42% Female
Most likely to be in first marriage
Lowest % foreign born

Strongest Values                                     Weakest Values
Fatalism                                                          Introspection and empathy
Hyper-Rationality                                         Cultural Fashion
Risk-Aversion                                               Rejection of Authority
Ethnic Intolerance                                        Pursuit of Novelty

Anxious Communitarians:
12% of Boomers
3.3 % of Canadians
1.1 million people
39% male             61% female
Below-average education
Older boomers (mainly 55-64)
Disproportionately in Quebec

Strongest Values                                         Weakest Values
Concern for Appearance                               Hyper-Rationality
Need for Status Recognition                        Sexual Permissiveness
Fear of violence                                              Rejection of Authority
Flexible Personality                                        Flexibility of Gender Identity

Connected Enthusiasts:
21% of Boomers
5.7% of Canadians
1. million people
42% male             58% female
Highest % of Self Employed
Professionals and tradespeople
Disproportionately in Ont, Prairies

Strongest Values                                          Weakest Values
Personal Creativity                                          Ethnic Intolerance
Cultural Fusion                                                Acceptance of Violence
Social Learning                                                Anomie and Aimlessness
Ethical Consumerism                                       Fatalism

Autonomous Rebels:
19% of Boomers
5.1% of Canadians
1.7 million people
50% male             50% female
Highest education, income
Highest % divorced, living alone
Concentrated in Public Sector Jobs

Strongest Values                                         Weakest Values
Rejection of Authority                                   Fear of violence
Equality of the Sexes                                      Joy of Consumption
Equal Relationship with Youth                     Need for Status Recognition
Pursuit of Happiness to                                 Superiority
detriment of Duty

On reading his descriptions I found I had characteristics of all of the categories. I think I am more similar to one of the types but that may just be wishful thinking. I know I don’t fit into any one more than seventy-five percent. So where does that leave me? It reinforces my dislike for labels. For ease of communications I use them; however, I usually indicate that I am using broad brush strokes in the description. This is especially true when I use words like women, men, any ethnic, class, religious reference, all psychological descriptions and golfers.

As an aside I think that when we use the term “them”, we do all kinds of harm. As we separate “them” from “us” we distance ourselves from “their” humanity. Somehow, we then give ourselves permission to treat “them” differently than we treat “us”. When we to do this, we don’t notice the loss of our humanity which follows i.e. slavery, genocide, religious wars, brawls at sports events, generational poverty etc. Warriors need to dehumanize the enemy so they can do their job, that is why they identify the enemy by labels rather than calling them Fred, Barney and Bill. We are not warriors in our daily lives so let us not use labels in a derogatory framework and as a result increase our humanity.

Finally, even though we use “Boomer” in the title of the blog, we recognize the difference audience we have and will attempt to address all people of a certain age who like exploring the next stage of our lives.

1 comment:

  1. Wayne, loved this post! Commented last week, but it got lost. Anyway, your point about the "we" "they" reference is spot on. I've always felt uneasy when people (and me too)talk about what "they" do...it IS distancing and it allows us to see them as (conveniently) other. "They" is often a stereotype or generalization of some kind, isn't it? It's the problem I have with the word "terrorist" these days too...labels that serve purposes other than truth.

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