Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Difference...

Today, I had the pleasure of being interviewed for an article being written for the Los Angeles Times. I don't know if my ancedote will be published or not... the writer is interviewing many people. I'll let you know if my comment appears.

I am a writer of sorts myself. I've been published in newspapers and magazines, and even on internet sites. In all honesty, I've rarely had an idea turned down. On the other hand, I'd hardly call myself a professional. More of a dabbler. You see, when you submit an idea, you generally have to commit to a deadline months and months out and I never know what my health is going to be, so I'm afraid to pursue this career in a more agressive manner. I hate to fail.

However, being a writer, it is always interesting to be interviewed by another. It's funny how you can pick up on leading questions... knowing the answer the interviewer is looking for by the way he asks about various subjects. I'm not going to write about the meat of our conversation, but I do want to comment about a question he asked me... something that I am sure that he will not be using.

The question? Do I think that younger people of today are ruder... more insensitive than in the past. He used an example of "friends" of his; how rude they were to use electronic devices of varying types when they went out to dinner. Knowing my age and my intolerance for the subject of his article, I'm sure he was looking for a discourse about how awful "the youngin's" of today are. He got the wrong gal. But an honest answer.

Many years ago, I worked for a small fufillment company called 'Rightside Up.' I was the Director of Customer Service (a job that did not, coincidentally, fit my personality type all that well), and had quite a number of Call Center employees as well as young Managers of Customer Service reporting in to me. Most of their ages ran from around 18 years to maybe 25. The majority of them were male, college students or recent grads, and pretty full of themselves.

Just like my friends when I graduated college.

This was a time when the youth culture dictated massive tattooing (not that different from today) and also piercings. My company had a rule about piercings... specifically tongue piercings, but not tattoos. After all, we were a fufillment house. If we forbade tattoos, we'd never find a soul to work in the warehouse. Just as a sidebar, the reason that we forbade tongue piercings was that the ring would click on their teeth when they talked and that was bad for a phone job.

Anyway, I was in my early 40s at the time; my boss in his early 60s. He would rail against "my kids," talking about how awful the culture of the day was. And I'd laugh. "Go talk to them," I advised him. "Get to know them a little. You're judging them on cosmetics rather than who they are. We wore stuff to drive our parents crazy; they're just taking it to the next level to make us nuts."

And as Jim looked at me, disbelieving, I laughed harder. "Do you know who I feel sorry for?" I asked. "I feel sorry for those kids. Because what we wore and did to make our parents nuts was tame compared to what they do, but imagine what their kids are going to have to do to make them crazy!" And it's true. I figure most of them are in their early 30s now, and probably starting their own families. They're not old enough to have teenagers yet, but it's coming soon.

Anyway, having that job was probably one of the more profound experiences I've ever had. Not for the job itself, but for the influence I had on those young men. I look back upon it with pride. Because there I was, the same age as their parents, but telling them the truth instead of the parent line of bullshit.

"Think your parents didn't smoke dope?" I'd ask, and they all assured me that there was no way that THEIR parents ever did drugs. "Oh yeah? How many of them keep an old beat up insence holder around for sentimental value?

" Are you doing drugs yourself? Don't tell me the answer! But think about this. I'm not telling you to do them. In fact, I'm advising you against it. But if you think you need to experiment with drugs or alcohol or other contraband, or if you think you need to sew your wild oats, do it now. Do it while you are old enough to think of it, young enough to claim you didn't know better, and still in school so that if you get caught and in trouble, your parents will still act as your safety net." That bit of advice garnered me quite a bit of respect.

I started giving them significant work assignments rather than just limiting them to answering the phones. I had them writing white papers, creating new company policies and procedures. They claimed that the work was hard (it was), but they rose to every single challenge. And all of them florished. I lost every darned one of them because they became highly respected in the company and were stolen from me. Promoted.

Over time, I convinced them not to continue with the tattooing. "Think of it this way," I advised them. "I don't have a problem with your tattoos, but you don't know who you're going to apply for a job with next. Let me give you an example. I always say never ever wear perfume or cologne to a job interview. Why? Because you don't know who you're going to interview with! What if the person who is interviewing you is allergic to perfume? Wouldn't you hate to miss the perfect job because of something so avoidable? An interview cut short for an asthma attack?

"Tattoos are the same thing. What if you never get past HR because the person there is so stupid that they don't understand tattoos? Even if your potential boss couldn't care less? How awful would that be?"

And they thought about it, discussed it amongst themselves, continued piercing (which I encouraged... self experession and when you take the rings out, nobody knows) but stopped with the tattoos.

Then we talked about their futures. "What do you think about networking? It's important. And do you know what my personal biggest regret is? Never learning how to play golf. Because all the biggest Entertainment relationships are sealed on golf courses." The next thing I knew, those long haired, tattooed, pierced kids were turning up in the parking lot after hours with golf clubs, learning how to play and having a grand time of it.

They meant well; all they needed was somebody to be honest with them and explain "why" instead of just telling them what they should do.

"Well," you could respond. "That was then, and there's a whole new generation afoot. A ruder generation." I don't believe it.

I've had young people working for me in entry level positions all the way through the end of my professional career. I still interact with a lot of young people through my fiber arts guilds and such. Frankly, I'm amazed at this as I was young when I first started attending, and people my age were the "old folks." Who would ever have thought I'd survive to be considered old?

Anyway, the 20 somethings of today that I know are just as passionate and dedicated as anyone I've ever known. Of my artist friends, I see them trying out new techniques, inventing and embellishing on what we did in my generation. They are fabulous.

I look at the children of my friends; the ones who are coming of age now. I have one friend who's daughter is going to Gambia this summer to work with Physicians Without Borders. I have another who's troubled daughter is working hard to straighten herself out, and we see significant progress in everything she does. Yet another daughter has children of her own and lives a solid middle-class life.

Many of my friends started their families late and have youngsters to teenagers now. I see the angst that they are going through (both the parents and the kids) and it rings very familiar. Nothing new.

Every generation has it's character prototypes. There are the snobs. There are the cheerleaders. The dopers. The do-gooders. The freaks and geeks. The super-smart. The athletes. The pranksters. The nerds. And every generation has it's oldsters who are suspicious of the new generation only because they don't take the time to talk to them.

Think it's something new? Go and re-read "East of Eden." Specifically the chapter about the turn to the 20th century. How the old people bemoaned the youngsters of that day, and how it would never be as good as their youths were again.

Bullshit. Every generation has it's issues. Every generation has it's social norms, and often they offend the generation of before.

But how nice it is for me to close out 2008 on such an optimistic rant. Because I do have faith. The technology of today is different than the past, and the affect of the youth has changed to reflect it. But the truth is that people are people are people. And I know deep in my soul that most people are inherently good. Even those under 30.


Anonymous said...

okay I don't know why I'm crying other than, really bad day with oldest kid, and now I want to go hug her after reading your post. Did I tell you today I love you?

Claudia said...

I loved this blog. I am one of those people who are on both sides of the question. In my 20's I was a hippie freak that drove my parents nuts but deep down I was a good person. As a mom I look at Kerry and her friends and see wonderful young people who work hard to change the world for the better. I'm thinking maybe you are right. Maybe most people are inherently good. Ya think? LOL

Love ya,


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