In his book, Mind the Gap, Graeme Codrington states, ‚it is cultural events, cataclysmic happenings and so on that affect a generation‛. In order to better understand generational theory, he goes on to comment, ‚‌countries need to work out significant dates and events in their own history‛ (p.17). I would argue that working out significant dates is not enough. We need to work them out, analyse them and learn from them. If we do not do so, the evils of Generational Karma will continue. Let me explain…

Let’s begin with the Baby Boomers. If you are a Baby Boomer from Europe or the USA � or you want to understand Baby Boomers from Europe or the USA � I want to suggest that 1968 is a key year to consider.
1968. A year after the Summer of Love and Flower Power. The Beatles started the year in Rishikesh, studying transcendental meditation under the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, but ended the year singing about Revolution. Robert Kennedy was assassinated. You don’t need me to remind you that it was the year Martin Luther King was slain.
Crucially, 1968 was the high water-mark of student activism and political unrest. The year of revolution. Throughout Europe – France and Italy in particular – students were coming together to effect foundational reform of their society that found a voice and empowerment on the barricades. Not only Europe, either. Japan, too, saw an increase in student activism during this period. The Eastern bloc was most profoundly affected. Czechoslovakia experienced Alexander Dubcek’s programme of liberalisation, immediately followed by the August Soviet invasion. President Johnson in America lost all credibility with the student generation through his handling of Vietnam. The white middle-aged US majority was stunned by the black workers strike in February, the burning of the cities in April, and the violent university protests – most notably at Columbia – throughout the year which culminated in the incredible events of Berkeley.
Britain, it is true, has rarely been party to such emotional political protest. In 1968, there was no British equivalent – with, perhaps, one exception – of Rome, the Paris Left Bank, Prague, Berkeley or Columbia. Nevertheless, the spirit of student revolution – or, at the very least, student activism – did not pass the nation by. An unprecedented level of student activism suggested a new confidence and sense of empowerment amongst young people that political leaders would have been foolish to ignore.
In a show of unity with their European and North American counterparts, British students took to the streets in protest at the Vietnam War. The first major demonstration was held on 17 March 1968 in London’s Grosvenor Square, outside the American Embassy. 25,000 young people descended on the area and the protest descended into violence. Firecrackers were hurled at police horses and banner-poles at the riders. The police launched a counter-offensive, during which 45 demonstrators and 117 police were injured. In total, 246 demonstrators were arrested. A second anti-Vietnam protest took place in October. Only 3,000 of the demonstrators moved towards Grosvenor Square on this occasion and violence and arrests were kept to a minimum. The most remarkable aspect of this latter event was that the London School of Economics was occupied by the students as a place of sanctuary and medical assistance for the demonstrators.
Occupation of educational establishments and ‘sit-ins’ were a predominant feature of British student radicalism during 1968. Anger over a lack of participation in strategic educational decision-making bodies was perhaps a greater cause of protest than Vietnam during these twelve months. Certainly, there was a strong feeling that the voice of students was not being heard and that the educational agenda was being hijacked by right-wing reactionary forces that continued to exercise control over learned institutions. There were ‘sit-ins’ at the Regent Street Polytechnic and the Holborn College of Law and Commerce, the University of Essex, Croydon College of Art and Guildford School of Art, Birmingham University and Bristol University. There were a number of demonstrations held at Aston University, Leicester University, Enfield College, Birmingham Art School and the Universities of Hull, Keele, Leeds and Bradford.
The British student body was on the move in 1968. Admittedly, not with the violence, the passion, the anger and the emotionalism of their Continental counterparts. Nevertheless, they had something to say and they wanted society to listen.
Whilst they gained the ear of the majority of the British people, they failed to gain their sympathy. This incisive comment from the Wood Green, Southgate and Palmers Green Weekly Herald clearly reveals the attitude of the Silent Generation to the attitudes and behaviour of the young:
…a bunch of crackpots, here in Haringey, or in Grosvenor Square…can never overthrow an established system. They may dislike having to conform to a system in which they are required to study, and follow set programmes, and take examinations… [but] The system is ours. We are the ordinary people, the nine-to-five, Monday-to-Friday-semi-detached, suburban wage-earners, who are the system. We are not victims of it. We are not slaves to it. We are it, and we like it. Does any bunch of twopenny-halfpenny kids think they can turn us upside down? They’ll learn.
Contending against entrenched resistance like that, the students of 1968 never stood a chance.
What comes around goes around. Generational Karma. These Baby Boomers � these crackpots who tried to overthrow an established system � went on to rule the world. Despite the protests of the Silents, these twopenny-halfpenny kids became the decision-makers, the law-makers, the business leaders, the politicians.
So it was that those who inherited the system had to contend with, for instance, the Poll Tax riots in 1990. The hallowed architecture of Trafalgar Square vibrated and shook on March 31 to the sound of pitched battle between protester and police. Roy Hattersley, Shadow Home Secretary for the Labour Party, commented, ‚On Saturday, I called for exemplary sentences for those who were convicted of committing criminal acts. May I today emphasise the importance � perhaps the greater importance � of prosecuting those who planned and organised the mayhem?‛
I wonder where Hattersley was in 1968?
What comes around goes around. Generational Karma. The Poll Tax rioters � or, at the very least, those of us who had sympathy with the cause but perhaps not the method of protest � are going on to rule the world. We are Gen X. We are becoming the decision-makers, the law-makers, the business leaders, the politicians.
When the Millennials rise up in protest in a few years time at our handling of a foreign policy gone disastrously wrong, amoral business practices sustaining famine and global inequity, legal and financial systems that continue to bias the rich against the poor � when that happens, as it surely will � what will be our response?
In the face of the 1939 Nazi threat, W.H. Auden wrote:
‚I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return‛
If we are involved in business or politics, we are the change-makers. To quote the 1968 Silents, ‚The system is ours‛.
Will we have the courage and the wisdom to overturn Generational Karma and find a new way?
The Connection Economy � if it means anything at all � must surely mean this.
Dr Steve Griffiths is best known for being a Possibilities Thinker. He has inspired the transformation of many communities through his ability to dream great dreams � or distil the vision of others � and lead in such a way as to make those dreams and visions come true. Steve has been particularly involved with change management. Steve has a profound gift of communication and specialises in making abstract ideas easily accessible, applicable and ‘user-friendly’. He is a great motivator whose infectious enthusiasm and belief that ‚anything is possible‛ has had an immeasurable impact across the world.

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