It seems that human beings are always fascinated by what makes them the people they are, and how their selves are seen by others as well. We are constantly interested in defining ourselves, probably because such definition provides clearer and more stable identities. It is true as well that most people prefer to think of themselves as fully individual. It is natural for most to want to believe that they are unique, no matter what external forces are in play in creating identity. While this is understandable, it is not ever completely the case, simply because the time in which we are born places us into a setting that must greatly influence who we become. In plain terms, generation is an enormous force in shaping how people develop. The culture of that time is what we rely upon, just as those sharing the generation reinforce the wider impacts of society. At the same time, generation is not the only influence, and individual nature, circumstances apart from age, and reactive processes themselves all combine to more create identity. As the following supports, these factors of personal character, personal environments and influences, and how we react to generational factors in ways not accepting them are all stronger elements in how we become who we are.
While generation is a powerful influence, there is no escaping the reality that personal nature, and personality itself, are defined by other forces. Without question, generation is important and because it goes well beyond only age. It is the stage of time in which we are born, so the state of the world at that time is the only one we know as real and meaningful. This in itself has a further effect and maybe said to bring members of a generation more closely together. For example, a great deal of research supports that adolescents are very peer-directed. Their senses of self are vulnerable at this age and they more need validation from those “sharing” their generation (Doise, Palmonari 198). This is certainly understandable; teenagers feel that only those experiencing the culture as they are can share the meaning of it. Adolescents in fact may be more generationally-influenced than any other age range because the physical and psychological changes of moving from childhood into adulthood are extreme, and there is a greater need to emphasize connection with others of the same ages. Then, many people simply carry on the associations made at this stage of life, as it is natural for human beings to be drawn to those who can relate to their own experiences and social influences. Nonetheless, this alone cannot define who a person is or what they may become. Genes, as vast research indicates, play an enormous role in how people develop as individuals, and in ways science is still seeking to understand.
Personality traits, physical characteristics, and even psychological and emotional states are very much the products of genetic factors (Newman, Newman 71). This also does not account for the mysteries of individual personality itself, as when geniuses arise within generations for no apparent reason. In a sense, we live within our generational context, but we still live within it as individuals. Even when a person chooses to more define him or herself by generation, they are making the choice because that is what their individual character wishes. Genetics alone then support that generation may only define or shape people to a limited extent.
Then, and even as we become defined by genetic factors, we also live and develop in ways not necessarily tied to generation itself. It is true that, as each generation exists within the culture sharing the time period, this culture becomes the reality for the individual. Generation and society are in fact completely intertwined, if only because the actions of each generation set the stage for what the next will experience and change as well. This is seen in virtually every aspect of living. The younger generation of the 1960s, for example, defined themselves to a significant degree by how they viewed and responded to the Western world created by their parents. They then created a counter-culture which defined the era, but this occurred only in a broad sense and cannot be viewed as defining actual personality for many. This reinforces that people live within different layers of reality and experience, and the culture is the more external of these. What then likely has more impact on how people develop and define themselves is the home and family environments first known. Certainly, these are affected by the external so generational influences are in place.
At the same time, however, it is very ordinary that the home known to the individual exists in a way “filtering” the external culture. Parents or other caregivers are to a degree products of their own generation but, in their own environments of home, they are enabled to control how external forces play into the life there. Psychosocial theory goes to the reality that information, beliefs, and knowledge in general is automatically passed from one generation to the next (Newman, Newman 21). This is both rational and extremely probable, as children are usually guided by this process. Nonetheless, there is endless opportunity for those controlling the home environment to direct all influences. For example, a family may exist in a time and place when extreme Christianity is the norm, but choose to not transfer this belief into the home. When this occurs, the developing child is not subject to what the external generation is engaged in outside the family environment. More exactly, it is an influence that will likely be felt, but still minimized. The same is true of political or social beliefs outside the home. The primary point is that generation, as a wide concept or entity, usually has its greater force in broad contexts, and children are typically developing in more intimate and controlled settings.
Lastly, and while generation has impact even in terms of when its aspects are denied by an individual, this goes to the lesser impact of generation as a negative force. Taking the example again of the 1960s, many young people defined themselves to a great extent by identifying with the counter-culture of the era. This did not entirely shape them but it was a powerful force, certainly. However, it cannot be known how many other young people of the rebellious generation chose to resist the movements or play no part in them. As noted, this is an effect of generation, but it cannot be seen as one directly defining people because the resistance to it must come from more individual beliefs and traits. On a personal level, and as a 20 year-old, I myself am aware that many people expect me to hold certain beliefs, and be interested in certain things, because of my age. I do share in some of the interests common to my generation, just as I enjoy the advantages of technology my generation has, and no other has had to this extent. At the same time, however, I am not a part of many behaviors and concerns that are identified with my generation, either because they do not interest me or because I do not feel that they are worthwhile. Consequently, my being as an individual is what allows me to make these choices, and this alone refutes that generation has a primary role in shaping who we are. As with my earlier example, resistance to generation-based ideas is still a form of influence, but the resistance more goes to unique thinking and feeling removed from the influence itself. Such reaction, in plain terms, must be individual.
Generation is far more than an “age group,” and because it is based on how and where that age group is existing. This being the case, it is irrational to claim that it has no influence in personal identity. Nonetheless, it is equally irrational to believe that it is the primary influence, as other important forces go to who we are as people. Ultimately, the elements of personal character and genetics, early home environments and influences, and how we react to generational ideas in ways not accepting them are all powerful forces in how we are shaped as individuals.
- Doise, Willem, & Palmonari, Augusto. Social Interaction in Individual Development. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011. Print.
- Newman, Barbara, & Newman, Philip. Development Through Life: A Psychosocial Approach. Belmont: Cengage Learning, 2008. Print.