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Pastors Peace - September 2022

by Rev. Dr. Fred G. Garry on August 30, 2022

          To say I was skeptical is a gross understatement.  I was dismissive, condescending. The first time I saw an article about the generational differences in our culture I scoffed and thought, “this will be useless.” My impression of the article’s title conjured images of newspaper horoscopes: generalities offered as descriptions and predictions. Hogwash.

          To say I was stunned after reading the article is a bit understated as well. I thought someone climbed into my head. So many impulses, so many attitudes, so many definitions were all too clearly describing my sensibilities. I found myself saying, “me, ah me, oh darn, that’s me.” 

Just recently I read an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Pamela Paul, “Gen X is kind of, sort of, not really the boss.” It was . . . spot on. Well, kind of, sort of spot on. I am a Gen Xer so I need to qualify any direct statement. Again, before I read the literature, and this was long ago, I had the wrong impression that I was not of my generation.  I am a historian, a student of the ages, not a product of one. Wrong and wrong. Well, wrong to a point, perhaps. 

What Pamela Paul described so well was what I call the ongoing need to make a     caveat, to qualify, to surround all statements with an apology. “I hate to be the boss here but . . . .”  Pamela Paul says, “that’s how a Gen Xer leads;” we lead with qualifications.  She makes clear how my generation would rather have everyone make up their own mind and just do their job. I can remember twenty years ago. My first attempt at being a Head of Staff. My main strategy was, “call me if there is problem.” In case you are wondering, that’s not a very good management style. For good or for ill, though, it wasn’t just my style; it is my generation’s. Like most things, we are not really unique, or I am not really unique because I don’t want to speak for you.

Leadership for Gen Xers is an uncomfortable fit. We want to have a role, but we don’t need to be the one in charge; we are fine to head something up . . . just so long as everyone is on the same page and understands that this is only here in this place for a short time so not to be confused with any kind of dictatorial ambitions or power grabs (this sentence could go on and on and on). The persistent need to qualify all decisions with “in my opinion” or “let’s take a look at this together” is to quote The Who, “talkin’ ‘bout my generation.”

Through the years, I have come to see the positive aspects of the Gen X approach, and there are good points to a shared leadership style, and, I have come to see the negatives. What emerges when you see both the positive and the negative together is bias. Bias is a predisposition, a leaning, a propensity toward certain things or directions. This essay of Pamela Paul is a description of my generation’s bias in terms of leadership. 

Bias is not something we are likely to change, but it is something, if we are mindful of it, we can recognize its influence and make conscious decisions. In the coming year, I am going to study bias as it impacts preaching. Each Sunday when I preach, my particular bias influences the way I read, the way I write, what I bring up, what I leave in silence.  For instance, my generation has a view of history and progress and power. This comes out in what we hope. I have a bias, beliefs, about what can change for the better. Those beliefs, biases, influence what I preach.

Usually, I would study such a topic in books and conversations, maybe offer a class or a forum. I am going to do all of those. But this year I am hoping to take it up a level.    I applied for a grant to fund my study of bias. If awarded the grant, it will let me hire a friend who is a well known statistician. My friend Joel creates surveys, conducts surveys, and provides the data from surveys at the highest level of peer review. My hope this coming year is to not only study bias in myself and in literature, but to develop a tool for listening to generational bias, especially as it pertains to hope and history. I want to know your bias, too!

If all goes well, my initial hunches and theories and   ideas about generational bias will all be proven false, or less than accurate. That is what I love about research. I revel in the critique, the uncovering of truth which was unseen because of false assumptions. It turns out that the love of critique is a generational bias, too. Not only do I put an “*” next to my beliefs, but I also trust I will be wrong, or partly right, or right in some sense and wrong in some sense. I am sort of, kind of, right or wrong.

Mostly, what I hope to find is this: how do we as a church look ahead as well as look to the past? What are   the assumptions we have about our history and our future? I love these questions and I hope you will as well, unless your generational bias finds such questions problematic. If so, I am sorry to be a bother. (That’s my Gen X apology in case you were wondering.)

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