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The articulate and organized calls for action from the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have brought the nation’s attention back to the unsettled gun debate. If the history of generational cycles tells us anything, this cohort could be the one to usher in change.
They are called “plurals,” also known as Gen Z or iGen. Researchers disagree on when the generation begins, establishing their first birth year sometime between 1995 and 2003.
Some researchers prefer the term “plurals,” short for pluralist generation, because when they are all born, they will be a majority nonwhite generation, researcher Morley Winograd said.
Plurals are known to value compromise, he said, a byproduct of their diversity and comfort with working with peers from different backgrounds. They are also in line to be an “adaptive” generation. These cohorts tend to come right after disruptive generations that change society in significant ways, such as millennials. When adaptive groups come of age, they take the problems that were brought to light by their predecessors and try to work them out.
About US talked with Winograd about what is shaping plurals’ worldview and how they could have lasting effects on all of us. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
A student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School speaks with others at the Florida state capitol in Tallahassee on Feb. 21. (Colin Abbey/Shutterstock)
About US: Millennials also experienced school shootings, but will the group that comes after them be more able to come up with a solution?
Winograd: In historical context, think about the Tuskegee Airmen, who endured discrimination in World War II and still fought bravely, gloriously, but came back to a society that was unchanged.
Were they the ones who then solved that problem? No. It was the generation after them who found a leader who could address that problem.
In the millennial case, you start with Columbine and you go through all the sad stories of the years that follow in terms of school shootings, and you have millennials who are very concerned about their personal safety. As a generation, it’s just a major generational concern. 9/11 only heightened that concern. So, they learn how to hide in case of emergency and run for cover, and they endured backpack examinations and mag readers as they entered school, and they sort of accepted that because personal safety and security is very important to them. But they didn’t do anything to fix the problem.
Here comes the generation that says, “Okay, we got all that; we’re used to living in the same world you are, but we’re not satisfied with that. We’re actually going to go fix it.”
Students participate in a protest against gun violence Wednesday on Capitol Hill. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A few years ago, I interviewed you about plurals and their gun politics, and you said, “America usually gets the generation it needs when it needs it.” Do you feel that’s the case with what we’re seeing from the Parkland students?
Yes. The cycle, when it works, generally means that as society reaches kind of a breaking point, and whatever the current intergenerational situation dynamic is, along comes another one who supplied the missing ingredient.
What we need now is sort of, “Okay, America, let’s all settle down. Let’s figure out how to make this all work. We understand each other; we understand their differences. We’re not afraid of differences, but differences don’t mean we should be mad at each other or angry or unwilling to speak to each other. It means we just have to learn how to deal with each other and live with each other.” And that’s what the plurals will bring.
Do you think their political views will change as they get older? Or are their core characteristics part of them no matter what?
They are there no matter what. [Plurals] are not quite old enough for us to know exactly what that means because the psychological term is the ‘age of maturity’ — it’s between 17 until about mid-20s. This is a time in life where psychologists see people sort of evaluating the world for the first time in terms of what they believe.
So not what their parents believe, not what their friends believe, but they get enough experience in the world, they have a wide enough view, they’ve gone through school, they’ve learned history, hopefully, they’ve had some personal experiences, and they have come to some conclusions about how the world works. And when they reach those conclusions, those don’t change — those paradigms, if you will, don’t change.