This post first appeared in the weekly column, “Denim Spirit,” from The Finger Lakes Times (NY), July 26, 2017: http://www.fltimes.com/opinion/denim-spirit-take-a-millennial-to-lunch/article_5d9954ca-dfb9-5210-9378-77432179c34a.html
Don’t be throwing shade on the Millennial generation.
Millennials get belittled as those “trophy” kids, the ones raised with participation trophies for everyone who plays. But we had those over fifty years ago for swim meets, only they were pink ribbons instead.
Millennials also have a reputation for not being able to work on their own, or needing too much guidance and unnecessary support. I don’t know about all that, but they sure know how to collaborate and work together like nobody’s business. My two married children both had weddings that were community events and would never have happened successfully without scores of their friends coming together as if a giant single organism setting up, decorating, taking down, and cleaning up. It was awesome to behold.
Another hit on Millennials is that they do not exhibit respect for pride of place, nor loyalty to the job, company, or organization. In the first case, Millennials seem to prize consensus and freedom of choice more than their older cohorts because that is what they were taught, even if by older generations who didn’t really practice what they taught. They also remain unimpressed by titles earned from longevity, and instead wonder why ingenuity and energetic skills are not equally recognized. Secondly, they watched their grandparents and parents receive pink slips as they were unceremoniously escorted out of the building, or their pensions diluted and robbed in favor of stockholders who didn’t like all that unused capital just sitting around being wasted. Little wonder the depth of their loyalty is only equivalent to what they will actually receive from an employer.
Instead of looking down our generational noses to judge the differences between them and us, we might consider the changes in the world baby boomers were born into, and the world that Millennials were raised in. I was born in 1953 and my youngest child was born in 1994. Think about how much the world changed between 1953 and 1994. Think how the presumptions of my world are different from the presumptions of his world:
- The Cold War.
- The crumbling of Colonialism.
- The expansion and then decline of Communism.
- The receding of nationalized economies and birth of globalism.
- The globalization of American culture and the evaporation of American dominance.
- Space travel.
- Earth travel.
- Studebaker to Prius to self-driving cars.
- Mainframe computers that filled a warehouse reduced to a laptop computer, and then again to tablet size computing, and now a phone with nearly as much speed and memory
as the old mainframe.
- From industrialization, to the explosion of information, to the crisis of climate change.
All those changes eroded so many of the assumptions and beliefs baby boomers were raised with, and at the same time sowed new and different assumptions for the next big generation (the Millennials recently replaced baby boomers as the largest generational cohort). Low esteem for the Millennial generation arises from a shallow understanding of who they are and what has shaped them, just as the misunderstanding of baby boomers by previous generations, hounded them for years.
Chill with a Millennial or two, buy them lunch even, and hear what makes them tick. Our future depends upon them.