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Doing your Part – How to Think Civically

Generational Cycles

In 1991, William Strauss and Neil Howe co-authored the book, Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584 to 2069. The book traces society’s changing worldview for over 400 years and arrives at the overall conclusion that our collective mindset cycles through time in a series of four generations.  These generations are identified as Civic, Adaptive, Idealist and Reactive, each lasting approximately 20 years. Meaning one generational cycle lasts about 80 years before resetting and starting again. Strauss and Howe pinpoint the most recent cycle as follows:

Generation Years Born Mindset
Silent 1925-1942 Adaptive
Boom 1943-1960 Idealist
Thirteenth 1961-1981 Reactive
Millennial 1982-???? Civic

Society’s 40-Year Pendulum

I saw human persuasion guru and best-selling author Roy H. Williams present his modified take on this generational cycle theory in October of 2004. His presentation, Society’s 40-Year Pendulum, promoted one cycle as two 40-year generations (Civic and Idealist) rather than four 20-year generations. From his perspective, Adaptive and Reactive aren’t so much their own generations as they are Civic and Idealist cooling off periods.

Generation Years Born Mindset
Silent 1925-1942 Less Civic
Boom 1943-1960 Idealist
Thirteenth 1961-1981 Less Idealistic
Millennial 1982-???? Civic

Imagine the pendulum of a grandfather clock starting from its resting position. As it moves up to the left we experience a 20-year Civic generation. Then it falls back for the next 20 years as we grow increasingly tired from our zest for civic duty. This push-back has enough momentum to catapult the pendulum up in the opposite direction for 20 years until we reach the zenith of an Idealist generation. At this point the pendulum falls back again for 20 years as we react with pragmatism to the pie-in-the-sky posturing and posing of self-righteousness and expression.

Thinking Civically

If you agree with this cyclical thinking, it’s encouraging to realize that we are currently moving deeper into a Civic generation. This kind of all-for-one-and-one-for-all attitude feels much needed given the corporate scandals and economic crisis of recent times. Over the next decade, values such as teamwork, honesty, humility, social consciousness, transparency and equality should become more strongly ingrained in all of us. A few examples of this over the last couple years include:

  • Applications to Teach for America, which recruits graduates for underserved urban and rural areas, have nearly tripled.*
  • The Peace Corps is experiencing its largest number of volunteers in 30 years.*
  • AmeriCorps*VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America), which pairs recruits with non-profit organizations, has seen a 50% jump in applicants.*

*Source article: Volunteer rates hit record numbers

Thinking like an Idealist

To come of age during the late‘60s meant running from conformity like it was a plague. Idealism was not about humbly doing your part, it was about breaking out to express yourself in a brash, larger-than-life way. It was Muhammad Ali proclaiming “I am the greatest!” It was Mick Jagger strutting around the stage like a peacock in full plume. It was Tom Wolfe chronicling the experimental escapades of the Merry Pranksters in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. This addiction to pretense finally entered rehab in the mid‘80s and by the early 2000s we began feeling like regular people again. As our disdain for hype grows over the next decade, potential signposts, as highlighted by Roy H. Williams, should include:

  • The decline of prestige brands like Rolex, Harley Davidson and Gucci.
  • A decline in the effectiveness of traditional, hype-based advertising.
  • A decrease in the divorce rate.

Holding Yourself Accountable

So what does this all mean to you book professionals out there? It means for the foreseeable future, people won’t just be evaluating your content, they’ll also be evaluating you. Here are ten things you can do to demonstrate your values, your perspectives and your willingness to do your part:  

  1. Reference persons, places and things familiar to your audience.
  2. Deliver the experience you promise.
  3. Evaluate what you’re doing to make a difference.
  4. Find the loopholes and close them. Anticipate the “yeah buts …” and speak to them directly.
  5. Evaluate your website by asking yourself, “How can I make it easier for people to deepen their relationship with me and trust me with their money?
  6. Don’t ‘we-we’ all over yourself. Focus your message on your audience. Give this ‘we-we’ calculator a try and see how reader-focused you are.
  7. Build a two-word bridge that connects your features to their benefits—‘which means.’
  8. Use raw, unscripted testimonials like this one.
  9. Keep your pencil sharpened and your notebook at the ready. Be prepared to capture the golden little nuggets of truth and human interaction you observe. These are the moments that bind us together.
  10. Study the practical applications of new media. How can facebook help you? Should you put a video on YouTube? Is a blog something worth considering? Marketing strategist Chris Maddock certainly believes so. Read what he has to say on the matter.
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