The recent activism by students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in the aftermath of the horrific shooting there has brought to light something I’ve known for awhile now. Our young people got it going on. They are civic-minded and passionate. But they are also compassionate, and what they want is harmonious coexistence in a world where everyone is free to be who they are. To live and love as they choose without judgement or assault.
Over the past few years, as I’ve taught at a collegiate level, I’ve had the good fortune to spend a lot of time with young adults. The stereotype is that the Millennial generation is coddled. That they are lazy and that they lack curiosity or drive. I am telling you now, all that is 100% false, and to espouse it is to do so at your own peril. They are wide awake, their bullshit detectors are finely tuned, and they don’t give the same shit you did when your parents’ generation judged you. We can try to hold them back all we want, but know what? They gonna do it anyway, yo.
And know what else? I believe that if there is any hope for our species and our planet, this Millennial generation is it.
Are they confused? Yes. Do many of them lack the ability to engage in real critical thinking? Yes. Do they struggle to problem-solve, especially in emergent or confrontational situations? Absolutely.
Why? Because that’s what we, the generation before them, foisted upon them. Who bubble-wrapped them? We did. Who largely ignored them, letting VHS and DVD movies, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, and Nintendo and Xbox raise them and as we set out to simultaneously chase our leisure/bliss and prove our own parents’ generation wrong? We did. Who fed them the pablum of our own narcissistic obsession to remain ensconced in our childhoods long past actual childhood? We did. And when they gobbled all that up—just like we wanted them to—we gave them shit for not having an original thought. For not taking charge. For not following our social norms or displaying the etiquette we think they should.
We gave them few rules and virtually no boundaries. Unlike our parents’ generation did to us, we didn’t really even give them much to push against until they grew into teenagers that were suddenly (and mysteriously!) rebellious and disobedient. We were largely just…there. We plopped them on an island, like the kids in Lord of the Flies, and let them figure it out themselves. So know what they’re doing now? They’re setting their own rules. Is it messy? Sure as hell is. But they’re figuring it out…without us.
And we kinda hate them for it.
I’m not certain what it is in our human DNA that induces us to eat our young. Why collective amnesia grips each successive generation, causing them to forget how they felt judged and oppressed for simply doing what human beings have been doing since the dawn of time—for doing what we seem to have been designed to do. For pushing boundaries. For moving our species forward. For championing progress. And in this forgetting, the former generation belittles, berates, and tramps down the latter instead of encouraging and supporting them.
One of the great pleasures of my teaching experience has been to show each new crop of young people that not all those in my generation are against them. And to guide them—without judgement—to the tools of critical thinking and problem solving, so they can keep figuring it out. Not my way. Their way. I gladly give them the benefit of my hindsight and experience when they ask for it, but all the while I also reassure them that their very human struggles aren’t weird or abnormal. That they are all good.
And..? They’re getting it. They’re thinkers, these Millennials. They’re philosophers. And they’re also innovators. They are dying to generate new ideas and create. They just don’t quite get…how. But they’re beginning to find their voice and learn how to use it. They’re picking up the ball and running with it.
Listen, I know it sounds like I’m condemning my own generation, but I’m not. I am, however, saying we are all complicit in propagating a culture where those that follow us are condemned. Where the mistakes we made as parents are projected as faults upon our children. Where we retreat to the familiar when we should be celebrating the strides the proceeding generation makes into new, unfamiliar, and even challenging territory.
I’m not going to play the condemnation game anymore, and I encourage everyone in my generation to do the same.
We should be supporting our Millennials. We should be defending them with our lives. They are the future. For us. For our progeny. For our species. And I believe they’re onto something. They really want to save the world. I think we should help them.