Open Letter to Gen-X

Gen-X: It takes a village to crush souls Second in a series of essays exploring my generational history. II. What Are We?

Let us start with this:

Psychoanalyst Erik Erikson was the first professional to describe and use the concept of ego identity in his writings on what constitutes healthy personality development for every individual over the course of the life span. Basic to Erikson’s view, as well as those of many later identity writers, is the understanding that identity enables one to move with purpose and direction in life, and with a sense of inner sameness and continuity over time and place. Erikson considered identity to be psychosocial in nature, formed by the intersection of individual biological and psychological capacities in combination with the opportunities and supports offered by one’s social context. Identity normally becomes a central issue of concern during adolescence, when decisions about future vocational, ideological, and relational issues need to be addressed; however, these key identity concerns often demand further reflection and revision during different phases of adult life as well. Identity, thus, is not something that one resolves once and for all at the end of adolescence, but rather identity may continue to evolve and change over the course of adult life too.

Furthermore

Marcia (1980) considers identity to be a structure for organizing individual conscious and unconscious wishes, interests, skills, and talents within the framework of one’s biology and cultural context.

I love finding intellectual writing that supports my inner-world-belief. I think most research on psychology could be done by tripping on one’s own mind. Or by watching Dr. Spencer Reid.  Please spend some time exploring the linked review study. It is a mega-statistical analysis, a study of a bunch of studies, and basically concluded everything I have been writing about. I even have a formula for that:

Life / Food + Music + Art + Craft + History = Culture (L/5e=C)

Like someone said once, somewhere, “It takes a village.” During the course of my recent writing experiences, I have found it necessary to look deep inside of myself. So deep I have reached a new low. A salient, and solid, conclusion the mega-stats supported is that the identity-diffusion-stage reached in adolescence can be stagnated or accelerated by social stressors.

Under the segment titled Events Associated with Identity Status Change, the essence of Gen X is described:

An issue that researchers have been exploring over several decades is the question of what kinds of circumstances are associated with identity status change and, conversely, what circumstances are linked with identity status stability. Some hints have appeared in related literatures. For example, Helson and Roberts (1994) found that some optimal level of “accommodative challenge” or life stimulation is critical for adult ego development (referring to Loevinger’s, 1976, model of ego development). Accommodative challenge is a circumstance or event that involves either a positive or negative disruption to one’s life. It may be that such life challenges are important to ongoing identity development over time as well.

Anthis and colleagues (Anthis, 20022011; Anthis & La Voie, 2006) have conducted several investigations into life events associated with identity exploration and commitment. In her “calamity theory of growth” model, Anthis (2002) has found stressful life events, such as divorce or job loss, to be associated with increased levels of identity exploration and decreases in identity commitments. She has also found increased levels of identity exploration to be associated with a “readiness for change” measure (Anthis & La Voie, 2006). Anthis suggests investigating how optimal levels of perceived conflict interact with other factors for different cohorts of people in exploring the role that life events may play in ongoing identity development during adulthood.

I have never heard my life described as an “…accommodative challenge…” or a “…calamity theory of growth…”, but hell yeah, that works! Another Gen X trait that stands out for it’s blatant diametric opposition to other cohorts is “increased levels of identity exploration to be associated with a “readiness for change” measure…”.

Meaning that our under-parenting created self-sufficient anti-authority beings with a generous nature and a dark underside always looking to evolve into something more self-realized. And self-serving too. Deal with it.

The second paragraph really hits home for me. Stressful life events, which define the typical childhood of Gen Xers, lead to more identity exploration and less identity achievement. Yeah, really? Also, “…optimal levels of perceived conflict…”  seems a convenient phrase for what a spouse could legitimately call “spoilin for a fight!”

What is the difference between intrinsic knowledge, that is, intuitive knowledge and learned or experienced knowledge? I know something just because I know it. It has always been so in my life. It just is.

Learned experience is different. Intrinsic knowledge can possibly come from an experience, but that experience would have had to have been incredibly early on in life, so as not to have become a memory. A memory is a learned experience.

A learned experience leads to what the shrinks in the aforementioned study of studies calls ”foreclosed identity”, which is ok with the subject, but is more or less an identity that is foisted onto oneself from external sources, i.e., significant others or significant events.

We are mind-prisoners in the soul-dungeon of other-expected but never-realized potential-achievement.

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Identity foreclosure mimics identity achievement, which occurs when a person has explored their values, beliefs, career interests, sexual orientation, political leanings and more to reach an identity that feels uniquely their own.

 Identity foreclosure, however, isn't actually a true identity. It's like wearing a mask.

We pretty much hate how we were raised, and basically keep acting like how we were raised. I talk a lot about the amazing survival skills honed by the battles of a traumatic childhood, and how we lionize those talents later in life. Usually over a few beers. Sadly, as this mega-study makes mega-clear, Gen X developed superhero skills that became obsolete right after adolescence. Great!


My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people. Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see.

Muhammad Yunus

Every day, my inbox receives a Daily Quotation some of which are pretty cliché and pablumistic. Once in a while, though, one comes through that makes me pause and purposely ponder the profundity. Such was the one above. It came in a few days ago. I knew I would write about it, but it took some time for me to wrap my head around the implications. Literally and metaphorically.

MY greatest challenge is to change MY mindset! Remember the Constanza Rule? I consider that challenge to be a main topic of my writing. I wrote the following passage for the book I am working on:

Notice how I have not mentioned skin color once when talking about these people. The people I am referring to are people who have never moved out of the circle of comfortability of their routine lives. This could refer to a poor white family with an alcoholic dad living in a crappy triple-wide trailer in Flora Vista. Or a poor brown family headed by a single-mom in a crappy apartment in Highland Park. Or a poor black family led by a widower whose wife OD’d living in a crappy converted garage in North Altadena. When I say circle of comfortability, I don’t mean in skin color or material comforts. I mean in attitudes.

Circle of Comfortability. We all live in ours. Works for us most of the time. Usually stops working during crisis moments. That is when we resort to instinct. Upbringing. Tribalism. Our mindset plays tricks on our eyes and brains. We see what we want, or rather, need, to see in order to make sense of the unfamiliar and unknown. The eyes feed the brain the narrative, and the brain locks into survival mode. At any cost.

So, I researched the biography of Muhammad Yunus and learned what an amazing man he is. Still alive at 80 years old, he is a Nobel Peace Prize winner for Economics in 2006. He basically created a method of making “microloans” to poor people, mostly women, in Bangladesh. In 1976, he loaned $27 to 42 women in a small village called Jobra. They made bamboo furniture.

Each woman made a profit of $0.02. TWO PENNIES. I write about the value of a penny here. He invented microcredit. By 2007, the bank he founded, Grameen Bank, (Grameen, in the Bengali language, means “of the village”) had issued $6.38 billion in loans to 7.4 million borrowers. Those efforts have been replicated in over 100 countries. And of the issue of lending mostly to women?

Many microcredit projects retain Grameen's emphasis of lending to women. More than 94% of Grameen loans have gone to women, who suffer disproportionately from poverty and who are more likely than men to devote their earnings to their families.

What an amazing and wonderful system to have created. He changed the mindset of people. His actions allowed others to see themselves in a new and much improved light. He created value by valuing human beings. And by valuing human endeavor. What a noble and just cause.

How can normal everyday people create that kind of value? By changing mindsets. By engaging new and different ideas. Ideas about self and society. And our places within each. By promulgating and digesting those ideas. By resisting the tribal instinct to shun difference and value familiarity. It takes practice. Lots of it.

An old sports saw goes “10,000 hours or 10,000 reps make a habit.” Luckily for us Gen Xers, we got all those reps during childhood. We perfected the idea of different. Breakfast Club anyone?

I just read again the plot line for the movie. I think I will watch it today with The Wife. I wrote a poem a few months ago during this lockdown that touches on the subject of cliques, and who belongs to what:

New Normal

There is no “new normal”  there is only now –

And – what the fuck was normal? I never was –

Neither were most of the losers, lamers, posers,

Wannabees, skitzos, and stoners. Guess what

group I ran in? All of them! But mostly

The stoners. –

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Members of our cohort are uniquely situated to be at the forefront of this collective multi-cultural coat of many colors. Although most of us belonged to a particular group or ran with a certain clique, we also over-lapped with all of them. Stoners sold joints to cheerleaders and jocks. Mexicans sold the weed to the stoners. Jocks paid geeks to write papers for them. Metalheads and Punkers clashed for fun. Rich kids hosted parties and needed jocks and stoners to bring the party favors. It was informal interdependent identity.  

Gen Xers are really good at navigating the social strata. I read a really great article, from of all sources, the NYT

We are the original “socially liberal, economically conservative” generation, David Rosen, a consultant who focuses on the psychology of politics, recently wrote in Politico Magazine — we were happy to believe that the problems are bad, but their causes are very, very good, as the joke goes. This scrappy, if self-defeating, independent streak, he suggested, was a consequence of our under-parenting. “If you wanted lunch and Mom and Dad weren’t around, all the moral values in the world wouldn’t add up to a grilled cheese sandwich,” Mr. Rosen wrote.

You could take all of that as a negative — once again, here we are in the wrong place at the wrong time, right the middle — displaying centrist tendencies in a political climate that celebrates the extremes.

But I’m not so sure. In today’s polarized online hellscape of a world, regardless of background or political chances, I like our chances to fix things after whatever inferno awaits. I have to. It would kill me to see millennials take all the credit.

What a perfect encapsulation of us. Of our pragmatism and resiliency. Make your own damn sandwich! Nobody can kick our ass harder than we can kick our own ass! We are Rocky, “Come ‘on, you think you’re bad? That don’t hurt.” It feels like everything about Gen X is acquisition as opposed to inheritance. Usually by force.

The article speaks, rightly so, to The Beastie Boys privileged “fighting for the right of rich white young men to party” but also how that struck a chord in us. At least they were fighting. That’s all we do. Everything changes. Landscapes shift. Moods alter. We stand firm. Or get back up.

We don’t whine about diversity, we exemplify it. We do not, and choose not, to use the most simplex of all human characteristics to define the most complex. Our diversity is not in the colors of our skins; it is in the colors of our personalities. Our diversity is spread out among the elements that make up our cultures.

We do not appropriate culture; we submerge ourselves into it. We breathe individualism. We bathe in distinctions. We celebrate our differentness. But we also seek bonds and crave affirmation. We hate belonging but love to belong. Our very nature, the essence of our beings, forced us into iconoclasm, if only to confront our conformity. We are the village now.

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Next: Open Letter to Gen X

Gen X: Beyond Adolescence and Identity

Third in a series of essays exploring my generational history.

III. We grew up?

I preview the next installment of the Open Letter to Gen X in this space. I posted the first essay of this series on February 14. I received the daily quotation about Grameen Bank on March 5. My preview of this post was titled “Gen X: It takes a village to crush souls.” Remember the meaning of Grameen in Bengali - “of the village.” Is it me? Or is that pretty cosmic? I want to explore the concept of acquisition as opposed to inheritance. Please share any thoughts, suggestions or memories about Gen X and how the generational cohort you grew up in affects your life.

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