Breaking Trust with Gen X and Gen Y

Attending a conference of media
professionals affords me the opportunity to get outside my normal stomping
grounds and meet folks from a wider area of professional responsibilities–and
to learn from them. I think the mainline denominations, along with a lot of
others including politicians, clergy and celebrities, have broken trust with
Generation X and Generation Y, and we’ve forced them into an attitude of
skepticism that’s necessary for survival in a world they believe is treacherous
and unfair.

I got an earful about religion, skepticism and the role of the church in our lives in a sideline conversation with a young adult who works for a media database organization at a conference for media professionals this week

The short version of her philosophy is that she, like most young adults her age, are skeptics; spiritual, practical skeptics. As an active Roman Catholic, she believes in religious principles but remains skeptical of nearly everyone, if not every teaching. Her experiences in media lead her to conclude that everyone has an agenda. For example, she says celebrities posture for the camera when they promote benevolence but there is little if any authentic commitment in their pronouncements or appeals.

She concludes that no one can be taken at face value, and, at worst, no one can be trusted, not even religious people.

Enron, WMDs, FEMA, clergy sexual abuse, Jason Blair at the New York Times, Jack Kelley at USA Today–all reinforce this skepticism, and the list is much longer, of course.

It’s a damning critique. A generation let down by leadership, the inflated claims of products and the failure of institutions to deliver on their promises concludes that skepticism is necessary to survive. The brighter you are, this young woman contends, the less likely you are to believe in the goodness of humankind.

Politicians, journalists, clergy, actors. In a celebrity culture trust is futile because it’s all about image and facade. Authenticity and truthfulness take a back seat.

I won’t universalize one conversation as if it represents a whole generation. However, there’s enough similarity in this young woman’s words to correspond with many other conversations I’ve had and much of the research I’ve read, to lead me to conclude her thoughts aren’t unique. This generation has experienced trust betrayed, and regaining their trust won’t be easy, if at all. And sadly, some don’t even want to.

One speaker told us “Generation X is history. Gen Y, gone. Today it’s about Generation My Space.”

A generation betrayed, now cast-off for the next new thing. No wonder they take refuge in skepticism.

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