Why I Love Millennials
Well that's what comes up at the top of a Google search.
Some call them the "Me Generation." Others take to social media to label them crybabies, snowflakes, leeches, parasites and any number of other colorful insults. They are the champions of participation trophies. Armed with selfie sticks, this self-idolizing, instant-gratification generation of apps and memes doesn't know how to hold a conversation, much less a job, but insist on tweeting and texting every thought that passes through their heads (all without proper spelling and grammar!) Meanwhile they self-righteously berate their elders over the environment, the purity of Bernie Sanders and the proper use of genderless pronouns.
Whether you think that list is spot on or a stereotypical exaggeration, the real question is: do Millennials deserve all the guff we give them? Are the young people of this generation really a special kind of problem, never before seen in human history?
Of course not.
Maybe you've seen this quote:
It's falsely attributed, by the way, like so many quotes shared online. According to quoteinvestigator.com, it was actually crafted in 1907 by a Cambridge student named Kenneth John Freeman, who never claimed Socrates or any other individual wrote it, but was compiling and summarizing complaints directed at youth during ancient times. But whether it expresses the ideas of 400 BC or 1907, it proves that the dissatisfaction of an older generation with the next is hardly unique to the 21st century.
The Greatest Generation thought Baby Boomers were selfish and Godless. They were anti-establishment hippies with no ambition to earn a living, wanting nothing more than to go to outdoor rock concerts and experiment with free love and drugs. And they all needed haircuts!
Then Baby Boomers named their kids "Generation X" -- as in "Put an X through everyone born between 1965 and 1980. They're worthless." Gen Xers were perceived as dissatisfied and directionless long before Millennials came along. The MTV generation, more interested in video games than going outside to play baseball, Gen Xers were lazy and growing fatter by the minute. Talked out of drugs by Nancy Reagan and scared away from their parents' sexual revolution by the AIDS epidemic, their only redeeming quality was the good luck to reach adulthood when technology boomed in the 1990s, making some of them rich overnight and perfectly poised to parent the next generation of entitled Americans: the Millennials.
Lucky, lucky Millennials, who came of age right when their parents figured out how to join Facebook -- easy targets for the ire and derision of everyone who grew up with a rotary phone. The perfect punchline of your back-in-my-day jokes.
But I happen to know some spectacularly wonderful Millennials. (I also think that if you had put cell phones into the hands of the Brat Pack or Breakfast Club generations, you would have seen similar patterns of behavior.) Over the years, I've noticed some things about Millennials as a group -- things that a Gen Xer like me could learn from. And since they are getting trashed on all sides, I thought I would join the handful of people coming to their defense.
So here -- in no particular order or degree of importance -- are the five things I love and admire most about Millennials:
1. Millennials are not Bullies
When I was a kid, it was perfectly acceptable to make fun of people for being different. Words like "gay," "retard," "dog" and "sped" (just to name a few) were used as insults on the playground and in the hallways. Being different was the perfect rationale for abuse -- and bullies abounded. Anyone who complained was told to lighten up or toughen up -- easy to say when you're not the one who is too skinny to play football, too fat to win a beauty contest or too shy to join student council.
Well that kind of cruelty is not tolerated by Millennials. They don't make fun of red hair, freckles or asthma, much less someone's race or any other mode of self-identity. They don't body shame girls who are naturally skinny (or naturally chubby), and they don't pick on kids with autism, ADD, turrets or Down Syndrome. They champion the disabled. They offer support to the addicted, the suicidal, the depressed to the point that people can actually stop hiding their faults and begin healing. Millennials almost try to outdo each other in seeing the beauty in difference, and that amount of kindness is to be commended.
2. Millennials are Fiscally Responsible
Despite the fact that Millennials love all the latest and greatest technological gadgets, they don't take on much debt to pay for them. Millennials, unlike Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, actually listened to their parents' warnings about student loans and credit card debt and they borrow less money as a result.
Statistically, Millennials carry fewer credit cards than their parents and grandparents, their average debt is comparable to the Greatest Generation and they have the lowest credit card balances.
3. Millennials are Fatalistically Funny
Millennials are earning less than their parents, a trend that doesn't look like it will change anytime soon -- especially since there are so many thirty-somethings in those entry-level jobs that used to be open to teens and college students. Meanwhile, Social Security is on a path to failure before Gen Xers retire. Who knows what will be left for Millennials, who will also live longer -- perhaps into their 100s. More years of living with less money to live on -- yay! College isn't a no-brainer for Millennials either, since jobs for baccalaureate graduates are no longer ripe for the picking, which means the road to adulthood is a lot less sparkly than it was for their predecessors. Millennials, unlike Gen Xers, have to choose their majors carefully -- or whether going to college is even financially responsible in the first place, something my generation never had to question at all.
So how are Millennials dealing with the stress of such a future?
With fatalistic humor. Just visit Tumblr, Pinterest, Twitter or Snapchat and you'll find Millennials poking fun at themselves along with their own state of existence.
Of course, they aim their wit at everything else too -- including the generations that precede them:
4. Millennials don't Love Stuff
Materialism is the religion of Baby Boomers and Gen Xers, not Millennials. They don't dream of McMansions -- more square footage, a three-stall garage filled with expensive cars and Ethan Allen furnishings. Instead, Millennials value experiences. They have either embraced or resigned themselves to living in smaller spaces, but they want to experience life, to go places, to travel. I have a Millennial relative who has combined her love of travel with her compassionate nature and she's spent months taking trips to third world countries, helping out the less fortunate. To do that, she has forfeited the possessions she could have had instead. I find that humbling and very admirable.
5. Millennials Don't Trust the Media
If you love to engage in Millennial bashing, you might be tempted to punch holes in my little love list, but let me stop you before you get too holier than thou. My opinions are anecdotal, based on young people I know -- I realize that doesn't apply to every Millennial ever born. But can I remind you that the stereotype doesn't either?
Doubt me? Well then go back and look at how I described Gen Xers and Baby Boomers (above, by the Kylo Ren meme) -- does that describe you? If not, then maybe we should all take a step back and realize that generalizing an entire generation of people might be a fun game to play, but it's hardly realistic.
Or maybe you want to throw your own anecdotes at me. You know a Millennial who's a bully ... and another who has five credit cards and $100,000 in college debt. Yeah, I know. But I knew a Baby Boomer who lived in his parents' basement until he was almost 40 and a Gen Xer who needed safe spaces every time someone hurt her feelings -- so what does that prove?
I guess my point is this: stereotyping an entire generation of people might make you feel better about yourself, but it's otherwise completely pointless.
Yeah, but if the next generation doesn't wise up and learn how to live in the real world, our society is going straight down the tubes!
If that's what you're thinking, I refer you to the fake Socrates quote above. People always think the next generation is ill-equipped to handle the future. It's one of our human flaws -- blind arrogance.
Are you honestly concerned about our future and how Millennials are going to survive it? Then the best thing you can do is be mentors to them. Tamp down some of your sanctimonious self-righteousness and look for sparks of intelligence, kindness, work ethic and ingenuity in this younger generation, then foster it, praise it and give it space to flourish.
I guarantee you'll find it. And when you do, maybe you'll have a brighter outlook than you did the day before.