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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Defining moments shape a generation

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

Images of Pearl Harbor, moonwalk, Sept 11, COVID pandemic

Where were you on September 11, 2001?

If you were born prior to that day, you can probably recall vividly where you were and what you were doing when you learned of the terrorist attacks. 9/11 is a defining moment in our history. The events of that day have shaped all of us, most significantly those of the Millennial generation (born 1981-1996).

Defining moments shape a generation.

As described in Chapter 14 of Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide, “defining moments have long-lasting effects, forming perceptions that influence ideals, mindsets, behaviors, beliefs, motivations, desires, and priorities of generational cohorts and future cohorts.”

For those of us in the “baby boomer” generation, we share defining moments such as the assassination of JFK, the moon landing, and Woodstock.

Consider the defining moments of the “silent generation” (those born before 1946) – the Great Depression and World War II. My mother was born on December 7, 1929. She remembers learning about the bombing of Pearl Harbor while celebrating her 12th birthday party with friends. Her teenage years were shaped by a world at war and the postwar era.

Consider generation when designing communication.

When we develop communication, understanding the generation of our audience includes taking into account their defining moments.

Other aspects of understanding a generation are related to age and life stage, which all generations pass through over time. It didn’t seem that long ago that we “baby boomers” were the new kids on the block. Now we’re the senior citizens.

When I reflect on what events and experiences will shape my grandchildren’s generation, the pandemic of 2020 will likely be on the list of defining moments.

All too often these defining moments are tragedies, but a few are great achievements, such as the moon landing in 1969. At both of these extremes of human experience, we can draw on our collective potential to solve problems and come out wiser, stronger, more resilient, and better prepared for the defining moments of the future.

“There is a mysterious cycle in human events. To some generations much is given. Of other generations much is expected. This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

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