By Emily Erickson
Well folks, it happened. In the space between the clamber of ice in my shaker and the subdued conversations of my contented customers, I heard him walk in. It began with the door opening and closing with a bit too much vigor, and quickly escalated into a contextually inappropriate hoot, holler and exclamation that the fine-dining bar I was tending was about to get “turnt AF.”
My heart sank as he rounded the corner, donning far more articles of brand name outdoor clothing than any self-respecting, actual outdoorsman would wear, and a flat-brimmed hat reading “SWAG.” He pointed his finger guns at acquaintances, booming, “It’s Friday, bruh!”
Taking a seat, he happily grunted, “Jager with Red Bull,” swiftly flipping his phone to the selfie screen to document draining the pint glass in seconds. Despite my best efforts to help anyone else (literally, anyone else), I was eventually sucked into a conversation about the “gnar pow” on the mountain that day, feeling my brain cells popping in fashion that even Orville would envy.
Never actually catching his name, I dubbed him, “Millennial Brad,” deciding that meeting him was one of those times in life that felt too hyperbolic to be real, and couldn’t possibly have been more extreme, even if scripted.
Despite how truly agonizing meeting Millennial Brad was, it proved an important experience for me, realizing the Millennial Brads out there are a point of reference for people of other generations looking in.
Of course there is a disconnect between Baby Boomers and the young people wearing prescription-less glasses and saying “L-O-L” instead of actually laughing. Of course members of Generation X can’t relate to someone who’s daily aspirations go no further than being featured on their fraternity’s Instagram account.
But it’s important to remember that the Millennial Brads are extreme by Millennial standards as well, and that they exist across all generations, just wearing different proverbial flat brimmed hats.
A quick Google search yields results deeming Baby Boomers, “a generation of narcissists,” responsible for creating “liabilities that will take generations to pay off,” and another claiming that Generation X “ruined the world too” by defining “self-obsession as the highest mark of cultural capital.”
As readily as we judge Millennial Brad, we can also characterize the negative-Yelp-review aficionado, room-temperature-water-with-ice-and-lemon-on-the-side- (and you still did it wrong) ordering, phone-ringer-volume-100, permanent-scowl-wearing 60-something as Baby Boomer Linda. The furrowed-brow, rebel-without-a-cause, repatching-the-tape-on-his-“vintage”-Nirvana-poster-while-grumbling-about-the-purity-of-the-handheld-Gameboy 40-something could easily be called Gen-X Todd.
Unfortunately; however, defining entire generations by the Millennial Brad, Baby Boomer Linda and Gen-X Todds out there is mass over-generalization. And in order to avoid ascribing the characteristics of the outliers to the many, especially as they relate to the most extreme members of our generations, we can use the sociological strategy of cultural relativism to assess the different people we encounter instead.
Cultural relativism is the idea that someone’s beliefs, values and traditions should be analyzed within the context of their own culture, as opposed to being judged against the standards of another. In other words, cultural relativism, in this case, is choosing to understand someone and their behaviors through the lens of their own generation, instead of viewing them from yours.
Only when we consciously make an effort to consider others’ environments, social climates, generational hurdles, attributes, and values before passing judgment, can we be confident in a more unbiased and accurate assessment of who they are.
When we are interacting with Baby Boomers, we can consider individuals growing up in post-Depression households with parents that aspired for traditional, suburban life. We can view their world through a lens of having lived through and spearheaded significant social and political movements and having been most affected by the Vietnam war.
When we connect with members of Generation X, we can acknowledge a group of people having pioneered a significant push for higher education, who watched the effect of rapid technological advancements and who survived economical roller coasters through their trademark ingenuity and risk-taking abilities.
When we are understanding Millennials, we can contemplate individuals who grew up in dynamic households, alongside the evolution of the internet and ever-increasing connectivity, and who came of age in a time of rampant social, political, and economic stratification.
In practicing cultural relativism, we avoid characterizing groups of people by the worst members amongst them. We eliminate our personal biases and get to know others in more genuine, accurate ways.
And of course, if we are confident in our lack of bias and someone says, “Working just really isn’t my jam, bruh,” “Do you even remember ‘Blue Lagoon?’” and “Um, I asked for one olive in my martini,” then they just might be the Brad, Todd, and Lindas, and consequently … *cue well-deserved, highly dramatic eye roll*