Thursday, December 26

Why I'm embracing "OK Boomer"

There's been a lot of media hand-wringing over the phrase "OK Boomer" and what it's supposed to mean and imply. Whatever.

I'm old enough not to be triggered.

An article in the Wall Street Journal states that somehow the phrase indicates irrelevance. I suppose that's one way to look at it. Good grief, every younger generation has done an eye roll at the older generation and every older generation has experienced varying degrees of mystification and frustration by, about, and with the younger generation. Right on. That's the way it goes and probably always has gone. Deal with it, people.

Not so long ago a young woman addressing the New Zealand parliament had her moments of viral fame when she responded "OK Boomer" to someone who seemed to express shock about or disagreement with what she said. The person who responded to her speech was identified as a "heckler" by our clickbait-happy media, though on any of the videos whatever the individual said can't be heard. We can only see Chloe Swarbrick raise her hand and say, "OK Boomer."

The Washington Post reported it this way:
Is that what happened? Did he "jeer"? Maybe. If what he said was indiscernible, how does the reporter know the colleague "jeered at her age"?

Was that "devastating concision" or just an annoyed "I don't have time for you" response. Other reports differ and I think it's because the media wants to make much ado about nothing much.

I agree with Bob Clark of the Smoky Mountain News who wrote that Boomers just need to settle down. Yes, many of us are not retiring yet. We still feel vibrant and a bit puzzled we're in this age bracket, and many others are like me and enjoy working. I'm still learning and figuring things out. And, while I have some issues with the younger generation, I have a lot of issues too with those still living and doing (and driving!) who are in my parents' generation.

So it has been and so it shall likely always be. Deal with it, people.

It's hard for younger generations to understand why we don't or why we didn't because they can't, won't, or don't comprehend the constraints in which we lived or how very much the world has and hasn't changed in our and their short lives. I have to laugh because, well, when they're our ages, they will understand better just as we began to understand the longer we lived and the more perspective we gained. It is the way things work.

I just read an article about 9 people who prove there should be a different perspective on Boomers, which is also the way of things. We see myopically--from our vantage points of age or youth, from the variances of our experiences and our expectations. Of the nine, five had direct impact on the technology that renders the younger generations the so-called "digital natives." They are the "digital pioneers" without whom there would be no iPhone, no laptop computers or tablets, no internet, no capability for Facebook, Tik Tok, or any other social media app. Sure, those things would likely have been invented eventually, but those five are the ones responsible for the technology world as we know it. What other Boomers have had and have an indelible impact on the world as we know it? For good or for ill? Well, that number might be hard to calculate.

What others also forget is how far and fast the Boomers pushed the technology and its capabilities so the Millennials could do what they do to push it even farther. And it's not as those Boomers aren't still behind some pretty impressive inventions, movements, and development that benefit not only Boomers but make a significant difference in lives of Millennials, Gen X, and Gen Z and whatever labels come after, though most of those don't get the kind of fanfare the latest video game or smartphone get.

And Millennials have and will have their share of inventions, movements, and development that get little to no attention and yet have significant impact, just as Gen X and Gen Z will. It is the way of things.

I was talking with some Millennials the other day and asked them when they became aware that there was a world bigger than their own community. It was an interesting discussion. I asked, I told them, because I worry about the K-12 students I see who seem to have no creativity and little curiosity about the world. They seem to be most concerned about FOMO and FOLO, especially those who whip out their phones between classes to see what happened to others while they were in class though most everyone they know really should have been in class, too. Those students are among the reasons I don't yet want to retire; why I think, I hope, I still have something to offer.

In January 2019 I wrote about retirement because it is a question often raised to and about us Boomers. Are some of us leaving a mess? Yes, but a lot of us are fighting with those of us who insist there is no mess. Just as Boomers were often at the front of any wave of activism, Boomers often continue to support and often lead the way for change. Why? Well, we know stuff. We've lived with and through stuff. Many of us have experienced aggressions and microaggressions and either put up with it because we had to, or started the landslide of action that fought back.

And we don't trigger easily.

In the mean time, I'm going to get older. There's no way around that. I'm likely going to get more crotchety and less patient with the younger generation. Sheesh, there are times I already sound like my mother's mother and that's more than a little terrifying.

And like my grandmother and my mother, I hope to keep contributing in some way until I can contribute no more. I hope my contributions will make sense and be of value, even if only to my small sphere of influence. I hope my contributions will further influence those who influence others because, yes, that is the way of things.

Wednesday, February 13

Green New Deal Dreamin'

Freshman Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has garnered quite a bit of attention with her willingness to take on the establishment. She's also getting some attention because she's basically told Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to "bring it." Um. I keep thinking about that proverb "Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18, NIV). I'm going to get all preachy. If you're not crazy about biblical references, think about Icarus.

The Fall of Icarus, 17th century, Musée Antoine Vivenel
Icarus was the son of Daedalus, a master craftsman who created the Labyrinth to contain the Minotaur. Daedalus and Icarus were imprisoned by the king to keep secret the Labyrinth. "Daedalus managed to create two sets of wings for himself and his son, that were made of feathers glued together with wax. He taught Icarus how to fly and warned him not to fly too high, which would cause the wax to melt, nor too low, which would cause the feathers to get wet with sea water. Together, they flew out of the tower towards freedom." But Icarus forgot or ignored his father's warning, flew too close to the sun, then plummeted to the sea and drowned.  All of that to suggest that it might be a good idea to measure some responses. I think McConnell is being strategic and wily by bringing to the Green New Deal to floor to force Democrats to take a position on it. Of course, most Americans won't actually read the text of H. Res. 109.

So let me offer my own summary. The beginning is a series of "Whereas" statements to provide context and begins with uncited statistics about climate change and the assertion that United States has substantive responsibility for the amount of greenhouse gas in the world. Apparently no in-text citations of any source are necessary in resolutions.

The next "Whereas" seems to take a left turn (see what I did there?).

Whereas the United States is currently experiencing several related crises, with--
  1. life expectancy declining while basic needs, such as clean air, clean water, healthy food, and adequate health care, housing, transportation, and education, are inaccessible to a significant portion of the United States population;
  2. a 4-decade trend of wage stagnation, deindustrialization, and antilabor policies that has led to--
    1. hourly wages overall stagnating since the 1970s despite increased worker productivity;
    2. the third-worst level of socioeconomic mobility in the developed world before the Great Recession;
    3. the erosion of the earning and bargaining power of workers in the United States; and
    4. inadequate resources for public sector workers to confront the challenges of climate change at local, State, and Federal levels; and
  3. the greatest income inequality since the 1920s, with—
    1. the top 1 percent of earners accruing 91 percent of gains in the first few years of economic recovery after the Great Recession;
    2. a large racial wealth divide amounting to a difference of 20 times more wealth between the average white family and the average black family; and
    3. a gender earnings gap that results in women earning approximately 80 percent as much as men, at the median;
Then back to climate change, then some points about the New Deal and the middle class. I got confused there about some of these points and why they were included, but this is the introduction, if you will, designed to offer some sort of context. And now we get to the actual resolution, which is LONG! Let me see if I can do this justice.

The first part of the resolution is the "why" and "wherefore" of the Green New Deal. It is, in my opinion, filled with ambiguities and lacks clarity. If I were grading this, I'd send it back for more details. The first statement begins with this phrase "it is the duty of the Federal Government," which immediately makes me itchy because I'm a proponent of a smaller government footprint, but let me continue to share the duty of the Federal Government which is, by the way, you and me. 

We need to "achieve a net-zero greenhouse gas emissions through a fair and just transition for all communities and workers." How? Yea, nothing on that. "Y'all figure it out" seems to be the strategy and I have to wonder what they mean by "fair and just."

Then we need to "create millions of good, high-wage jobs and ensure prosperity and economic security for all people of the United States." Well, yea, that would be awesome. . .if we can agree on what we mean by "good," "high-wage," "prosperity," "economic security," and "all people of the United States."

We're only on the second point and I'm exhausted with questions and wonderings, so just a few more. We'll skip the instructure "to sustainably meet," and not just because of the annoying and complicating split infinitive to go to "to secure for all people of the United States for generations to come--(i) clean air and water; (ii) climate and community resiliency; (iii) healthy food; (iv) access to nature; and (v) a sustainable environment;. . .". Um. Well. Um. Okay, let's go to the next big item which reads:
(E) to promote justice and equity by stopping current, preventing future, and repairing historic oppression of indigenous peoples, communities of color, migrant communities, deindustrialized communities, depopulated rural communities, the poor, low-income workers, women, the elderly, the unhoused, people with disabilities, and youth (referred to in this resolution as “frontline and vulnerable communities”);
I just. . . I mean, I think. . .

This is sooooo overwhelmingly all-encompassing. The idealism is beautiful and wonderful. Yes, reach for the stars, but if you're going to write a resolution, write something that people have a snowball's chance in Florida of accomplishing.

Then there's the 10-year mobilization of stuff that constitutes some specifics (and I use that word advisedly) for the Green New Deal mobilization. I'll share just one:
upgrading all existing buildings in the United States and building new buildings to achieve maximum energy efficiency, water efficiency, safety, affordability, comfort, and durability, including through electrification.
Is that "all" as in every single building that currently exists in the United States? every single building that is inhabited for one reason or another? Because, well, that's a lot of buildings. In fact, according to some work done by Microsoft, there are 125,192,184 "building footprint polygon geometries" in the United States. Let's pretend that means there are at least 125 million buildings.

And what do you mean, exactly, by words like "affordability"? or "comfort" because my minimalist tiny house may be comfortable to me but not to you. (I don't have a minimalist tiny house, by the way; it was just an example.) And what if I don't want electricity? It's possible. And how much would this cost and who would pay for it? The federal government? Because that's me and that means you're going to need more tax money from me. Um, no.

Well, I'll be honest, it just goes on and on and on. I don't mind the Democrats striving to try to make our world a better one. I understand reaching for the stars and dreaming big, then settling for what can be done. I understand that lobbyists and special interest groups will have a field day with this. I understand activists getting excited about what the federal government ought to be doing for "all people of the United States," but I worry that they haven't thought this through. I worry they haven't done any or enough "What if?" analysis. I worry they haven't thought about the mirror side of any or even some of these resolutions. I worry they haven't thought that there might be some of "all people" who doesn't want the federal government telling them what's good for them.

Now I'm an educator and I believe in the power of education, but this one made me sit back and think even more:
providing resources, training, and high-quality education, including higher education, to all people of the United States, with a focus on frontline and vulnerable communities, so that all people of the United States may be full and equal participants in the Green New Deal mobilization
My first unkind thought about this particular item: are there uniforms we have to wear to be participants of the mobilization? Is there a special salute or handshake or passwords? I'm sure they don't intend this to sound ominous, but it sounds ominous to me.

So if I were in a position to have to vote on this, I'd vote "no." I'd have to explain to my constituents who may be all lathered up because AOC is so popular right now that I can't vote "yes" on something with so few specifics. If I were able to vote on the idea of the Green New Deal and whether we should pursue the concept and figure out what makes sense for where we are and where we need to go, then perhaps I'd vote "yes." And I'd sure want to have some town hall meetings with groups of people to look at the wording of the entire resolution to figure out what really interests my constituents, and what they're willing to give up or strive for to accomplish some elements of the resolution.

Words matter.

Details matter.

Let's be clear on that, and let's be clear on what we mean when we submit a resolution that impacts "all the people of the United States."

Monday, January 28

The changing work environment is often weird and could be wonderful

I'm a Boomer and I don't remember anyone being worried about what I wanted out of work. I remember being concerned about getting a job and keeping a job. I remember being concerned about how to navigate obvious sexism before we called it that. I remember seeing women managers in engineering organizations do their best to hide their femininity and be one of the guys to the best of their abilities, even if they, even then, also wanted work-life balance and job security.

So I find this fascination about Gen Z, well, fascinating. It feels a bit like the tail wagging the dog and yet, I kind of get it. The work world is changing. Absolutely. Even though there are a bunch of us old fogies hanging around the work place, apparently fumbling with our readers as we fumble with our smartphones, the concern is not about our future but the future and well-being of the generations that follow us and will take organizations to wherever they may go next. And that makes sense.

I think one of the many challenges of most organizations is finding balance between the older and the younger generations, and this isn't new either. The younger generations often have less patience or respect for the older generation because they think we don't get it, that we don't know stuff, that we aren't as nimble intellectually as they are. And some of that is true. So it's hard not to remind them that some of us were writing code on machines that had less memory than their smartphones and we had to be pretty nimble and clever to write programs that did wondrous new things at the time with such technology.

And the older generation has certain views of the younger generations that are often as misguided and ill-informed and prejudicial.

So here's the thing as I read and re-read that article. Most of us want work-life balance. What that looks like for any of us differs so I think it dangerous to make that generational. Plenty of us appreciate having flexible schedule and being able to work remotely. By the same token, we have to be as committed to the business and the organization as we want the organization to be committed to us. If we have mutual commitment and respect--within reason--an organization will be accommodating to keep good people who will then help make sure the work gets done.

Everyone wants job security, but everyone has to be realistic about that. As employers and employees demonstrate mutual respect and commitment, and as the work gets done and the business can grow or expand or do what it needs to do to continue to be in business, employees will have job security. But no organization can promise job security because stuff happens.

I was particularly intrigued by the career path item. That seems weird to me but perhaps it has to do with my own trajectory in that I pursued opportunities as they became available or was sometimes forced to reconsider. Just because a manager has a plan for developing any worker, Gen Z or otherwise, doesn't mean that will come to fruition. The business may change out of necessity or circumstance. The possibilities are many. The mentorship program is a great idea nonetheless. Such a program will help managers and colleagues discover talents and abilities of its employees which might change career path options. If nothing else, a mentorship program can help the employee figure out how to navigate the options and opportunities in any organization, small or large.
  • Clearly defined career paths. If you don’t have a plan for developing careers of your Gen Z workers in the long term, don’t expect them to stay around for long. They possess an even larger entrepreneurial spirit than their predecessors and have more options than ever for finding side gigs. Consider a mentorship program, and make career satisfaction and growth a feature during recruiting.
I think the most fruitful phrase in this whole article is this one in the last paragraph: "avoid the negative stereotypes."

True for all age groups, all genders, all everything.

Friday, January 4

Retirement? Why?

I met with a financial advisor the other day and we talked about retirement. He was asking for financial planning reasons, of course, but I'd been thinking about the whys and wherefores of retirement even before I saw this article in The Guardian.

My mom retired around 65, when people are "supposed" to retire. Her husband was already retired and they'd had plans to travel. I'm not sure exactly where things went haywire, but they did and my personal and non-medical opinion is that their lack of engagement in the world around them led to their mental declines. Other than the fact that my stepdad was already retired, I wasn't really sure why Mom chose to retire because she liked her work and she was good at it.

I have a friend who retired early. He could and so he did, though part of his motivation had to do with the potential future status of his pension. He's younger than I by several years and he now spends most of his time putzing. He and a friend bought a cottage and he goes to the cottage every now and then; he helps people around the neighborhood. But he also spends a lot of time alone. 

I have another friend who is countdown mode for her retirement, but I also know how active she and her family are and how active they're likely to continue to be. I'm guessing she'll find plenty of things to keep her occupied.

We know the Boomer population is big and we know the leading edge of Boomers is beginning retirement, and we know that many of them are without sufficient retirement funds which could be part of the reason we keep on working.

We know that work place bias against older folks exists and most of us understand the thinking behind that bias. Even though plenty of us are digital pioneers, those who were also part of the leading edge of creating the ever-expanding digital phenomena of our time, there are far too many who think old people don't know how to use technology or are unable or unwilling to learn. Good grief! Stop that already.

I remember teaching a BOCES class years (and years!) ago to a large group of senior citizens. They had signed up to learn how to use a computer and the basics of word processing, back when Microsoft Word was about the only game in town. The lab was packed and they were all anxiously willing to give this technology thing a go. I will never forget that, or their joy when they figured out how to do something. 

The point is that many older folks can and are willing to learn if someone will be patient enough to help them learn or point them in the right direction. Employers will do well to remember that taking advantage of organizational, industry and/or field experience and knowledge can be powerful. In fact, those who are willing to learn, may be willing to teach though they may have to be coached on how to coach.

I think there could be amazing opportunities for employers with far-reaching and entrepreneurial perspectives of how to improve the work they do and how they do it. It won't be just benefits they'll have to think about adjusting, but how they recruit, hire, onboard, train, retrain, and provide opportunities for growth and transition. Each generation could use a little insight into what seems to be most important to that generation, but we have to be wary of too many generalizations because those just get us into trouble. Like suggesting that people over 65 aren't equipped to use technology or can't adjust to change. Huh.

As for me, well, I like what I do. I could retire in several years, but I don't really see the point if I can continue to do what I do and do it well. Or until I win the lottery, which I rarely play, so it's a safe bet that won't be an option. Like so many, I believe I have more to offer and more to do. And I'm not yet done learning either and there are a few gazillion books I've yet to read. Which reminds me I have to go check on some other online courses and schedule time to finish my chatbot course.