If you want to understand Generation Z (born in the 200o’s), take a look at Pope Francis. He is not just a new pope. He is revolutionizing the Vatican in a way that generation Z is likely to revolutionize secular institutions. For those of you who are not following Pope Francis, you should. He is so cool he makes me want to give money to the Catholic church. He is a Gen Z mascot.
Francis was not trained to be a powerful man. He is honest, for one thing, and no one trains for power through honesty. But also, he wants simply to do good for people and keep the Church healthy and vibrant. He doesn’t care about power.
This is exactly how Generation Z will view power: something that distracts from the real work of helping people. Gen Z will gain power by restoring beneficent institutions that hold our society together.
Generation Z will shore up institutions.
The history of civilization is cyclical. Generations build up institutions and later generations feel stifled by those institutions and tear them down. Generation Z is what comes after an era of destroying institutions. Generation Z are stabilizers.
Want to know what that will look like? Gen Z will refuse to engaging in polarizing topics that have no practical need for resolution. While Gen X is offending people and Gen Y is trying to build consensus, Gen Z will see it all as a waste of time to discuss – they want people to put the needs of the cherished institutions before our own needs – inside and outside of the church
Pope Francis models this behavior today when he tells everyone the church needs to stop focusing on fighting abortion and working against gay rights. Pope Francis church is going back to the roots of Christianity: he is washing the feet of the destitute and leaving people alone in their bedrooms and clinics.
For Generation Z, self-effacing action is the new authenticity.
Do you know how you can tell what age someone is online? Look at their domain name. Generation Y-ers are nuts about getting their namesake as their handle. How many women have said they are the next Oprah or the next Martha Stewart? Generation Z doesn’t care. They just want to do what they do best. Pewdiepie and AntVennon are post-Gen Y. They have huge web sites, but they are not self-promoting so much as promoting something bigger than themselves.
This is how Pope Francis sees himself — as part of world-wide Catholic organization that helps people. You don’t need to be better than other people to help people. You don’t need special recognition to help people. Pope Francis is humbly human and refuses to be part of an elite, stand-offish culture that has come to plague the Vatican.
The rise of Gen X coupled with the rise of the Internet ushered in a new authenticity through transparency. Gen Y reframed that as packaged authenticity via Instagram and Facebook. So it’s no surprise that the Vatican of the last 20 years was one of religious veneer covering up sex predators, clerical orgies, and global racketeering.
Pope Francis does not care for covering up. He does not need to present anything except a Pope doing good deeds and installing other clergy who do good deeds. He let the Italian government tax $93 million away from the Vatican. He kicked out clergy who were judgmental and divisive, and he invited a new era of clergy that, like him, never expected power or prestige and spent their whole lives in service to others in need.
Gen Z are pragmatic and sensible – no aspirations of stardom.
As Gen Y is the generation of reality TV, Gen Z is the generation of reality. In an era where institutions are crumbling around us, Gen Z has no time to shun conflict in favor of denial. Gen Z knows the times are desperate. They were born into a world of terrorism, a crumbling middle class, and global warming. One of the reasons Gen Z has no sacred cows is that the Gen Xers who raised them have disdain for following rules. But the real reason Gen Z can look you in the eye and tell you the truth is that Gen Z feels a responsibility to shore up the mess other generations left behind.
Pope Francis is saving the church through an unrelenting determination to be a realist. He is saving the world in his own way, and modeling for a new generation what it’s like to be a rebuilder of institutions.
How ironic it is that as Pope Francis implores Catholics to curtail power-mongering within the Church, because he makes the Catholic church one of the most influential leaders of the coming generation of institutional saviors.