Suffield Observations

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The law of succeeding generations
Andy Sauer

There’s a viral video circulating among audiences that either the all-knowing algorithm of their social media platform of choice has found or friends that spend way too much time on their phones have forwarded. It shows a stunned and choked-up actor deeply moved by the loud and prolonged cheering.

What makes the clip compelling is that the person is Hayden Christensen, the much-maligned actor of the Star Wars prequel series, and the people cheering are the franchises’ biggest fans. More than 20 years ago, when Christensen debuted as Anakin Skywalker, his performance was universally panned. He was reviled by the most ardent fans and his career just kind of stalled. The keepers of the cultural flame spoke and Christensen was out.

Except: A generation indifferent to the determinations and opinions of its predecessors was born and saw the movie for themselves. They made their own judgements, and when the most faithful were given a chance to express themselves, they resoundingly embraced their hero, who has since resumed his role in the franchise.

I share this random piece of pop-culture to illustrate a point, a fundamental truth of the human experience: The values of an emerging generation cannot be controlled.

Sure, those with power can make life difficult, but eventually time wins out. One generation dies, and another takes its place.

In my lifetime, I have seen once sacrosanct mores jettisoned with no ceremony. There was a time when every store in America, with the exception of a pharmacy, was closed on a Sunday; today, you can buy alcohol on Sunday. If you worked in an office environment, you were expected to dress professionally; today, you can wear a hoody. Job applicants used to cover up their tattoos; today, managers sport them openly. Men were asked to take off their hats when they were indoors; today, they keep them on – sometimes backwards. All of that, and so much more, happened in just the past 50 years. I can’t imagine the apocalyptic seizures that would grip a 17th century Suffieldian if they were ever exposed to today’s world.

It is irrelevant whether you or I believe these developments of our times are good or bad. They simply are the norm. These new conventions are a reflection of the values of the prevalent generations, and those values weren’t taught, seen in a video or read in a library book (as if people even read anymore). If anything, those beliefs were molded when the lessons dictated by the previous generation were discovered to be false.

It’s humorous and a little sad to witness the self-absorption of the governing generations, after imposing their will on the elders of their day, in believing they are the final cultural arbiters and pinnacle of human evolution.

Instead of attempting to exert influence on an emerging generation, the older generations might, in an even-toned voice, try the effective leadership skills of asking questions, listening to the answers, providing feedback and proposing mutually agreeable solutions. They might find their most cherished values appreciated, retained and embraced.

Or, the powers that be can play the heavy, ban books, boycott beers, exercise as much force at their disposal and beat their chests with their ever-weakening arms. They might slow things down, but they can’t prevent the inevitable.

And, when they’re gone, the louder the cheering will be when the times eventually do change.

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