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Redeeming Generation X (for BBC Radio 2)

Picture: Raúl Villalón (Flickr, creative commons)

Cynical, nihilist, commitment-phobic, dispassionate. Perhaps no age-group in history has had more negative labels attached to it than Generation X: that often ignored ‘middle child’ generation between the Baby Boomers and Millennials. As a Gen-Xer myself, I want to shout “We’re better than you think!” But as I share in this BBC Radio 2 Pause for Thought segment, while many Gen-X stereotypes are exaggerated, one in particular is true. Thankfully, however, there’s a remedy for it.

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Pause for Thought: My Generation

According to the experts, I’m part of the demographic known as Generation X—a Seinfeld-watching, Nirvana-listening, Nietzsche-reading generation sceptical of institutions, jaded by divorce, fearful of commitment, and slow to grow up. (But hey, unlike you Millennials or Baby Boomers, Douglas Copeland [amazon_link id=”031205436X” target=”_blank” ]wrote a book[/amazon_link] about us.)

Born between 1965 and 1980, our tastes were shaped in the 80s and 90s, and one song from that era stands out as a Gen-X anthem to me: The Verve’s Bittersweet Symphony. It’s one of my favourite songs, but the lyrics are about as cheery as slipping your feet into wet wellingtons. It starts like this: Cause it’s a bittersweet symphony, this life / Try to make ends meet, you’re a slave to money then you die. Here’s that Gen-X cynicism rearing its head: life could be beautiful, but we’re trapped in a profit-driven world.

Another line says I’m a million different people from one day to the next. Here’s Generation X looking for identity. Unsure of who we are and what we’re here for, we’re being pulled in all directions.

Things get hopeful in the chorus when lead singer Richard Ashcroft says I can change, I can change. But no—he soon adds I can’t change my mold.

The stereotypical features of Generation X have been exaggerated. We didn’t all grow up in single-parent homes; we’re not all afraid of commitment. Once labelled the ‘slacker generation’, we’ve actually been very entrepreneurial, creating things like Hip Hop, Google, Amazon and Twitter.

But one generalisation does ring true to me: Generation X has felt lost. As the first generation raised without religion, we’ve struggled to find meaning in our lives and hope for the future. There’s been a void in our souls.

That’s why, to me, the real hope in Bittersweet Symphony comes in the second verse, where Ashcroft sings: Well I never pray, but tonight I’m on my knees. That’s been my story: Longing for an identity, I discovered a God who is my Father, making me his beloved child. Longing for purpose, Jesus’ call to be the ‘salt’ of the earth and ‘light’ of the world gave me a mission to live for. When he said “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” I found hope. Having rarely prayed, I was soon on my knees.

Generation X isn’t easily persuaded on these things, though. We’ve seen too much in religion to make us cynical. But as one Gen-Xer to another I can say this: the void can be filled. The mold can be changed.

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