The irony of generational divides – Jeremy Austill
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“You teach what you know, but you reproduce who you are.” (old leadership adage)

I don’t know Frank Martin, the head basketball coach of the South Carolina Gamecocks. What little information I do have has largely been gathered as I have watched my beloved Tennessee Vols struggle to beat his teams over the last few seasons. However, in recent days his exposure has increased and his sound bites have been highlighted due to the run his Gamecocks are making through the NCAA tournament. Yesterday they advanced to the Final Four.

I won’t presume to know his core values nor do I assume he and I have the same ideas about God and life in general. However, his coaching intrigues me greatly. His team plays a very specific brand of basketball that carves out a clear identity within the whole of the NCAA. His teams are marked by toughness, physicality and defense…suffocating defense. Those terms have become synonymous with the name Frank Martin. He strikes me as a man who demands the utmost in commitment and commands respect. At times he seems maniacal on the sideline but effort is never a question as it pertains to his team. Martin coaches a generation of players that have been loudly castigated in our society as lacking all of the above attributes and then some. Some would have you believe what Martin is doing is an anomaly because certainly this young generation in the earth isn’t capable of such noble characteristics.

The following quote by Martin is a statement to society. It isn’t a thought confined to the hardwood. It is a blatant shot across the bough of those who have taken a pessimistic view of those coming up behind them.

“You know what makes me sick to my stomach? When I hear grown people say that kids have changed. Kids haven’t changed. Kids don’t know anything about anything. We’ve changed as adults. We demand less of kids. We expect less of kids. We make their lives easier instead of preparing them for what life is truly about. We’re the ones that have changed.”

I for one applaud his sentiment. It is unfair to negatively critique a younger generation without also critiquing our responsibility in who they are becoming. It is impossible to separate the perceived negative attributes of a younger generation from negative attributes in our parenting, grand parenting and leading. If we don’t like what we see in younger generations, the problem lies not with them but in us…we either raised them or raised the parents who raised them. We either led them or led the parents who raised them. 

Blame has a funny way of being one sided. Many of the ills of society (in government, media, the Church, etc.) can be found in an unholy entanglement with blame. Specifically, the willingness to absolve ourselves of responsibility at any expense. An unwillingness to first examine our own role in the issue serves to further division and widen gaps. Jason Upton, a worshipper, philosopher and poet, offers his process of viewing the world…

Whenever i see a problem in the world I usually start by asking how I am a culprit? Then I expand it to my neighborhood; my city, my country; my world; Humanity; And then, perhaps, God.

I have spent roughly 20 years of my life working with and engaging in a meaningful way, generations who are younger than myself. As someone born into the last few years of Generation X, I would like to stand up and ask my peers, and those who are ahead of me in life, to fully embrace our culpability for the wrongs we see in younger generations. I want to challenge us all to link arms with them, acknowledging the ways we have not quite been enough for them, and use our mouths (and typing, social media posting fingers) to speak life, encouragement, celebration, hope and possibility. Yes, some correction may be needed but it must be distributed with the transparency of identifying and communicating what it was in us that led to what it is in them that needs correcting. If the power of life and death are in the tongue, and the pen is mightier than the sword, now is the time to leverage that power to shape young generations for the road and assignment ahead.

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