The Cycle of Generational Superiority

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Caitlin Bailey, Journalist

Lazy, unmotivated, naïve, dumb. It’s likely that you’ve heard any or all of these things said about Gen Z. We’re often labeled before we get a chance to define ourselves. However, this isn’t an isolated incident–older generations have said this about younger people since the Ancient Greeks. Socrates himself said that young people didn’t respect their elders and that they no longer had manners. Well, those young people grew up and, thanks to the example set by their elders, bashed their children–the same ones they taught, mind you–for being lazy and unmotivated. Thus, the fallible cycle of the generational superiority complex continues.


Even I find myself looking at Generation Alpha–yes, they’re actually called that–and judging them just because they were born after my generation. All too often, I find myself falling into the cycle of thinking that my generation was the ‘last good one’ (like that hasn’t been said before) because the next generation just won’t survive. But why? It’s not like everything changed in ten years in terms of upbringing. 


I have little cousins that are a part of Gen Alpha, and aside from the fact that they have been born with smart technology at their fingertips, they’re pretty similar to how I used to be. They go to school, play sports, and hang out with their friends. They’re not aliens, they’re not the other, and they’re certainly not lazy, unmotivated, naïve, or dumb. How could they be, when they’re being brought up in the most informationally rich period in human history to date? While their elders are struggling to make a Facebook post–something that is more a relic of the past, even now, as social media continues to evolve–Gen Alpha is using the countless resources available to them to grow their knowledge and social currency. 


Social currency isn’t like paper money–it’s constantly in circulation, yes, but its worth is constantly changing and evolving; skyrocketing one day and deflating the next. Millennials used to be rich beyond measure; they used to control who had social currency and who didn’t. Now, we’re taking over. In a few years time, Gen Alpha will take the reins, and then the generation after them, and so on. 


As we grow older, our generation will be going out of date. Someday, we won’t understand the new trends or memes, two things that we are the keepers of now. After so long being the top dog, we’ll grow bitter for seemingly being left out of the social conversation. But isn’t that what’s happening to Millennials? Older Millennials used to be the original creators of memes and online trends, but now, many of them are out of their element. So much so, that they’re becoming antagonistic towards us–Gen Z–for pushing them out even though it isn’t our fault in the first place. This opposition towards younger generations is causing Millennials to succumb to generational distancing that has gone on for all of history. 


Thus, let me introduce my theory: the Cycle of Generational Superiority. It details the same cycle that each generation experiences, including the points at which each generation has the greatest and least amount of social currency. My theory includes six stages: introduction, growth, maturity, distancing, rejection, and dejection. 



Young people are introduced into society and are able to interact with it. They may not obtain any social currency at this point since older generations covet it. However, they are eager and willing to learn the ways of current social circles. 



They slowly begin to make headway in social circles. Though they hardly take them seriously, older people are being forced to accommodate the integration of younger people.



They have not only learned the ways of society, but they have mastered–and even changed–aspects of it. They are the generation with the most social currency and also are the starters of the majority of trends. 



At this point, the next generation is entering its Growth period, and is beginning to mold the social circles of society to its standards. Meanwhile, the current generation in a place of social authority is distancing themselves from younger people because of a fallible superiority complex. 



They find themselves being rejected by younger generations who are now entering the spaces they used to occupy, making them bitter. 



They are obstinate in their dislike of younger generations and believe that their generation was the last ‘good one’. They don’t take younger generations seriously, and believe that social currency no longer matters. 


While we may not go out of date for a few years, it will happen eventually–that’s just how it works. This natural cyclical exchanging of social power and influence is how societies grow. However, we don’t need to continue the cycle of superiority–it creates unnecessary intergenerational animosity and a lack of trust. 


My theory might explain why older generations feel slighted when they’re no longer the social authority, but it doesn’t explain why it must continue. Really, there’s no reason for it, and it’s something that’s already taking Millennials–we can’t let it get to us, too. Instead of rolling our eyes at Gen Alpha at their humor (which isn’t far from ours, if we think about it), we should embrace it. Maybe then we can break the cycle and share in the wealth of social currency. 


But even if that doesn’t happen–even if we move out of the spotlight faster than previous generations did–we should still be kind. Being bitter towards children is, in fact, childish. Therefore, before you make a comment about Gen Alpha (or any generation after), think about how it feels right now to have Silents, Boomers, Gen X, and Millennials all blame us–wrongly–for incompetence, laziness, and naivety. Are we as a generation really going to join literally every generation before us in opposing society’s future? Are we really going to be that petty? Just because we experienced it, doesn’t mean that future generations have to, as well.