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Columns : In My Sights

Generation What?

You can’t sum up the performance of recruits by the era in which they were born and raised.

October 01, 2006  |  by Dave Smith - Also by this author

OK, I confess. I used to teach how to train the "new generation." You older cops know who I'm talking about: frankly, the generation not as good as ours.

Well, I kept studying and studying because something kept bugging me about all this research that was giving me this insight into the minds of the different generations and the various things that made them tick. For one thing, one of those generations was mine. Most of this theory was kicked off years ago in a book curiously enough called "Generations" by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

These two fellows have made quite an industry of this business of each generation having a start date and ending date and what they are like, how they work (or don't), and their various sins and virtues. Most administrators, trainers, and many academics have embraced this whole thing as a touchstone or crystal ball to solve the problems of the current workforce or cadet class that just doesn't seem as good as "us." This was all well and good until Strauss and Howe wrote "The Fourth Turning." Or better yet, it was all well and good with me until I read it. I now think it is high time we rethink this whole generations-have-personality malarkey.

I think we should reject this whole enchilada and say simply that people will grow up to be individuals...some good, some bad, some lazy, and some just like you, dear reader, however you perceive yourself to be. One of the things I noticed in my research about the various generations was that the various traits each one had could be applied to anybody in the others.

For example, a generation could be described as "heroic and self-sacrificing;" the GI Generation that saved the world in World War II and created my remarkable generation known as Boomers is one such group. But these marvelous folks still had their lazy, cowardly, materialistic, self-serving brethren, as it turns out all generations have. And in reality, in spite of the images presented by the modern media, few of my generation were at Woodstock, were hippies, marched on Washington, or went to Canada...I mean, who do you think actually fought (and sometimes died) in the Vietnam War?

I did notice recruits changing during the '80s, but who would think it was because a new generation was coming into its own? We still had good cadets and bad cadets, courageous cadets and scared cadets, smart ones and not so smart ones...I can read the same traits in Homer's "Iliad," describing a generation thousands of years dead. I think the important thing is not the student but the teacher, not the recruit but the instructor, not the worker but the leader who sets the standard and the expectations.

All this generational stuff is just speculation, no hard science; Strauss and Howe aren't even sociologists. Besides, if they are right, the newest group of recruits, the Millennials, are going to be just like the GI Generation because societies recycle generations every fourth one or so. Which means these kids get all the glory and we Boomers will forever be...well...spoiled brats. Well, I am not going to stand for that. All together now, (you Gen X'ers pay attention) "there is no such thing as generations having traits."

Dave Smith is the creator of the "Buck Savage" series and a former law enforcement officer from Arizona. Currently, he is the lead instructor for Calibre Press' Street Survival seminar.

Tags: Police Humor


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