Have you ever considered your legacy or the legacy of your family who came before you? The immediate touch to our children and grandchildren is obvious, but have you considered the stories your grandchildren will tell their grandchildren about you? In their book, The Fourth Turning, authors William Strauss ad Neal Howe propose the theory of generational reach. They describe this as memory span; the distance between the lives that touched you connected to the lives you will touch.
Since reading about this concept I have considered thoughtfully who I am based on memories of my grandfather and how my grandchildren will remember me. When technology is factored into the concept an awareness of complexity becomes more apparent. To calculate your generational reach, think of the oldest person who influenced your life and their birthday. For me, it is my paternal grandfather, born 1899. Next, we must identify the youngest person you will touch. Most likely this will be a grandchild; if unborn today assume your youngest child will bear your grandchild at age 35 year and your unborn grandson will live to be 85 years old. For me, my son Ty will be 35 in 2047 and his son or daughter, my future grandchild, will live 85 years to 2125. Thus, my reach is (2125-1899) 226 years.
I believe generational reach helps understand the differences in views toward politics, values, and everyday culture. Immigrants carry fresh in their mind the struggles to come to America and place value on family, hard work, and maintain their roots. Many families have been in American since the late 19th century or early 20th century, thus generational reach to a different time is a fresh memory, easily reached through one or two generations. In contrast, families with roots dating back to the late 18th century and early 19th century have lost touch with the fight to escape persecution and enjoy the fruits of others thrust upon them by an entitlement society.
I believe generational reach slows progressive policies and grounds values in time. Shifts in culture acceptance of previously questionable behaviors are slowed. However, generational reach may also create rebellion as youth work to prove elders wrong and undo values established for conservative reasons. Take, for example, the late 1960’s when the hippie-youth counter-culture rebelled against the establishment of the day. Arguments were made regarding the disconnect between youthful opinion over the Vietnam War versus politicians sending other people’s sons to Southeast Asia. Today, similar disconnects are evolving as the Millennials protest , through the Occupy movements, decisions of an elder-political class intent on enslaving future generations through an unpayable debt.
The generational reach today comes from the millennials whose grandparents tell stories of the thievery of banks in then 1930s and see similarities to today’s big banks. These same millennials will tell their grandchildren about the great recession and the lost decades of economic prosperity and how their future was stolen like their great-grandparents. They will touch forever lives extending forward another century in the history of America.