My grandmother would use a paper towel to wipe down the counters in my grandparents’ house. A single paper towel. She would use that paper towel until it practically disintegrated, and if we tried to pull a fast one and throw it away, she would inevitably, and quickly, ask, “Where’s my paper towel?” As if there was only one instead of an entire roll sitting nearby.

This is how we were raised, with a sense of scarcity rather than abundance.

This sense of scarcity permeated everything around us. When we ate, we didn’t use disposable napkins, my grandmother would wipe our hands with a washcloth. My grandparents didn’t even own a dryer. Everything was dried on clothesline, which proved its own challenge in the back of rainy Manoa Valley. The kitchen trash can took days to fill.

It’s not hard to understand why my grandparents’ generation was referred to as The Greatest Generation (those born prior to 1924). Yet, there’s been a weird escalation in criticism of the baby boomer generation (those born circa 1946-1964), best reflected in the odd proliferation of “Okay, boomer” memes and retorts across social media.

Protest sign with OK Boomer.
An “OK Boomer” protest sign. Some say there is disconnect between a generation that enjoyed abundance and excess, and a rising generation left to clean up the mess. Getty Images/iStockphoto

This would be my parents’ generation. And I’ll be honest – I don’t get the criticism. I love my parents and their generation. We go to Vegas together. I’ve become that person.

Some articles say the frustration felt by younger generations is a reflection of the disconnect between a generation that enjoyed abundance or consumed excessively, leaving the rising generation to clean up the mess.

This is certainly a fair complaint coming from the millennials (those born circa 1981-1996), a generation with technological savvy, but perhaps lacking other experiences that shaped all the generations that came before them.

Yet, I think something very different is happening. While many refer to the generation after Millennials as Generation Z or post-millennials (those born after 1997), I’ve always referred to this group as Generation 9/11.

This group includes my own child, born in 2003, less than two years after 9/11 took place.

A blue and red neon sign on a brick wall that reads: GENERATION Z
The author considers this post-millennial generation, those born after 1997, the 9/11 generation — saddled with the legacy of that violent event and the anxiety of climate change. Getty Images/iStockphoto

This is a generation that has never known American airports without X-ray machines and security guards. This is a generation indelibly stained by terrorism, both by foreign agents against the United States and domestic terrorists. This generation undergoes routine school shooting drills and thinks about gun violence in ways that many of us could not have even imagined in our own youth.

The youth of today are anxious, because they were born into a world that is relentlessly violent. Their anxiety is understandable and the direct result of the world we created for them.

They point out that we, both boomers and Gen Xers alike in my opinion, failed them. They’re absolutely right. We have failed them. We continue to fail them. We are not doing enough to address the climate crisis. We continue to drive consumerism over mindful conservation.

We live excessively, when we should be treating our resources as the scarcities they are.

Over the course of a single generation, the world went from one that provided people some level of affordability and security to one that is increasingly unaffordable and unlivable. Instead of getting better at addressing the injustices suffered by people of color and other minorities, many days it feels like things are only getting worse.

Every generation is defined by its own unique epoch and with that comes experiences and culture that are simply not shared by the generations that come before or after. I don’t know what it was like to live during the Vietnam War. I have no idea who Billie Eilish or Harry Styles are. My child has no idea what MTV Unplugged is. He doesn’t know how to use a rotary phone.

Yet, our differences shouldn’t put us at odds, rather we should strive to find common ground and a consensus as to how we can work together to create a better future. What Millennials and Generation 9/11 need to appreciate is that the alarming Anthropocene we face today was not intentionally created.

While the frustration felt by younger generations may be understandable, it’s not actually productive, and it certainly isn’t justification for allowing simple acts of respect to erode away. If anything, the new and challenging crises emerging around us should be reason to treat each other better, not worse.

Giving respect to those around us who have simply lived more than us is a necessity. You should give your seat up on a bus for pregnant women and the elderly. We should get the door or hold the door open for kupuna. You let kupuna and young keiki go first in a food line.

Basic manners. Simple demonstrations of respect. They’re small, some may find them stupid or old-fashioned, but they matter.

They are a reflection of social and cultural health. They are a sign that we see and acknowledge each other as human beings, in spite of our differences and across our generations. These are the foundations of the social resiliency that will see us through the 21st century.

But then maybe I’m a little bit of a boomer too. That wouldn’t be the worst thing.

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About the Author

  • Trisha Kehaulani Watson
    Trisha Kehaulani Watson is a Kaimuki resident, small business owner, and bibliophile. She holds a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Hawaii and J.D. from the William S. Richardson School of Law. She writes about environmental issues, cultural resource management, and the intersection between culture and politics. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can follow or contact her on Twitter at @hehawaiiau.