"Generation Maybe"

Shannon Roberts
17 Mar 2014
Reproduced with Permission
Demography is Destiny

Are today's 30-somethings commitment phobes? In his recent book German author, Oliver Jeges, certainly paints this portrait of his peers, going so far as to call them "Generation Maybe". He claims that his generation is indecisive about faith, relationships, work, diet, values and ideology. Drowning in a world of freedom and a myriad of choices, they flit between possibilities unsure where to settle.

Only yesterday, a friend was telling me about his son and his various career changes. He tried to give his son as many options as he could, yet, in retrospect, he now thinks it would have been better for his son to have been strongly encouraged into a family business or expected career, as happened more commonly in Western culture historically and is still common in many cultures. Without so much choice, he claims that his son would be happier.

What is behind all this indecisiveness? In an interview with DW, Oliver Jeges comments that:

We learned that we could achieve anything - that's what our parents and teachers told us. If we only worked hard enough and believed in what we were doing, then we could get to the moon. But once we became adults we realized that maybe these were illusions…In contrast to the [baby] boomers, we're a generation that's not going for big jobs in the corporation to become the boss. What we want is freedom, flexibility and independence.

Perhaps my friend is right in thinking that telling your children that they 'can do and achieve anything they want' isn't as helpful as well-meaning parents intend if it results in a generation forever disappointed that they are not being all they were destined to be. Although, I'm not sure being pressured into any one career is necessarily the answer to knowing who you are and what you want to achieve in life.

What is more worrying, and closer to the heart of the problem, is a generation unprepared to commit to values, ideology or relationships. These are all also factors which limit certain behaviours and require some sort of commitment to a certain way of life. Jeges further opines that:

What I see with many people my age is that they neglect the old monotheisms like Jesus and Mohammed and say, "It's all made up." But then they turn to New Age philosophy and take it very seriously. You can build your own private religion, you can say, "Oh I believe in the good things Jesus did or the teachings of Islam," but you don't take the whole picture anymore. You just pick what you want - the raisins, you know?

Yet, surely something much bigger than having lots of choices must be causing this? Are we also teaching young people that they need never say anything is firmly right or wrong? That they have the 'freedom' to create and see their world as they see fit. Yet, if the happiness of 'Generation Maybe' is anything to go by, following each and every whim and avoiding committment is not true freedom it seems.

Values and ideologies have to stand on something that is rational and logical to be worth believing in don't they? - something that is either right or wrong. When we face crises like that in Ukraine at the moment, we are forced to fall back on our ideology to solve the dilemma of what to do. We need to know whether we believe in sovereignty and democracy, and why. Importantly also for the issues we frequently raise on this blog, we need parents who commit to each other for the sake of the happiness and well-being of their children - as well as so women are able to start having children before they reach their less fertile years.

Jeges considers his book to be 'a mirror' in which 'Generation Maybe' can see themselves and each other. Looking in this mirror might just help us to see what we can do better.