Why generational divides are unproductive when it comes to COVID-19

Mitigating public health risks during the current pandemic requires cooperation, not shaming

When it comes to COVID-19, we need to be on the same page.
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OK, Boomer—it’s a comeback, it’s a meme, and it’s a signal of a deep and contentious generational divide. 
 
Let’s face it: we love to point fingers at one another. Whether it’s blaming Millennials for killing the fabric softener industry or Generation Z for threatening traditional shopping, it’s easy to shift any blame to giant, faceless demographics.
 
Generational differences have been points of contention for years. When you have groups united by similar social and political values, they’re bound to butt heads with conflicting values. But relations have never seemed quite as dire as they are presently. 
 
We’ve drawn lines in the sand delineating each generation, but those lines have become battlelines. 
 
Generation Z—the group born between the late 90s and early 2010s—is predicted to be the first generation to have a lower quality of life than the previous generation. We stand to inherit a mess of financial, environmental, and political strife from the generations before us. A year ago, The New York Times wrote that the ‘OK, Boomer’ meme “marks the end of friendly generational relations”—if you can even call the relations prior to the divisive political friction of 2019 ‘friendly.’ 
 
During the current pandemic, generational dissent has only been amplified. Boomers have been generalized as angry and unreasonable non-mask wearers; Millennials and Zoomers are stereotypically flouting public health guidelines and partying despite the risk to their health.
 
There’s truth to both of these typecasts: many Boomers aren’t as concerned about the virus as they should be, and young people account for a significant portion of current COVID-19 cases. There’s value in acknowledging these trends, but pigeonholing entire generations probably isn’t the most effective way to get people to cooperate in slowing the spread of coronavirus.
 
As we’ve seen here in Kingston, these negative and divisive rhetorics have positioned the Kingston local and student populations at odds. Earlier this fall, KFL&A Public Health’s Twitter account posted a condescending COVID-19 safety graphic targeting young adults. Law-abiding students were angered at the disrespectful messaging, while the angry Twitter replies from Kingston locals were discouraging.
 
Niceties are never an excuse for impeding progress—young people shouldn’t be forced to be polite or compromise with older generations about their politics and beliefs. But when it comes to the current coronavirus crisis, we need to be moving forward together.
 
During a time when it’s vital that we cooperate in the name of saving lives, focusing on alienating whole generations of people isn’t the direction we should be taking. Targeting public health messaging at the demographics that are most at-risk for the virus is a useful tool, but there’s no need to shame people to encourage mask-wearing—it doesn’t work. 
 
Generational differences mean that we’re not going to be on the same page for many things, but we must be on the same page about COVID-19. If we have to shelf OK, Boomer for the time being, then so be it.
 

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