Friday, December 07, 2018

Those Lazy Millennials

Recently, I found myself in a dinner party conversation with a trio of professional women, all about my age, childless, and apparently with an axe to grind regarding the youth of today. The gist of their collective complaint, one I figure they've regularly shared amongst friendly ears, was that "millennials" were "lazy," "entitled," "selfish," and easily distracted by superficial things. It was the age old whinge of the fuddy duddy, one that goes back at least as far as the dawn of the first Agricultural Revolution when our Neolithic ancestors made the tragic mistake of leaving our hunter-gatherer life behind. These women aren't the first, nor will they be the last, to shake their boney fists at the generation behind them in unfair and ill-informed castigation, so in the spirit of keeping the peace I tried to hold mine, not nodding or even smiling, but striving to quietly endure until the conversation turned to other topics.

As the parent of one of these young people, I've found that nothing could be more unsupported than these peevish gripes of the aged. Most of the "millennials" I know are bright and thoughtful, open-minded and caring, interested in both a good life and doing good. In fact, just last weekend my wife and I were in New York City to visit our daughter where we spent three full days engaged in conversations with her friends about art, culture, politics, and economics. In direct contrast to the assertions of my crotchety dinner party round-table, these kids are motivated, engaged, compassionate, and eager to not just tackle the world, but change it for the better. Yes, there was talk of parties and dating and general silliness, but nature dictates that those will always be disproportionately included among the interests of youth, all the more to pity us old timers.

Perhaps, too, it is in the nature of age to stand in judgement, to take the attitude of superiority. I see it too often from my perch as a preschool teacher, where even well-intended adults are prone to view kids as humans of a lesser sort. They condescend and scold, correct and mold. They complain that they are messy and rude, too easily distracted, unmotivated, and lazy. They force them into programs of "improvement," foisting violin lessons upon them, devising tricks to get them to clean their rooms, and otherwise betraying their ageist bigotry.

I tried to simply wait for these women to turn to other topics, but soon realized that they were just warming up. So I said, "I disagree with you." They turned to me as one, their eyebrows raised in arch cocksureness. One of them said, "I've hired lots of millennials and they're all the same. They act like they're bored. They don't understand the first thing about hard work."

This was the trigger. "What you mean is that they're not motivated to do your mind-numbing, grunt work. What you mean is that they don't want to be treated like inferior humans. What you mean is that they hate their job and their boss and they would rather be doing something meaningful with their lives. To me that's not a sign of low intelligence or lack of motivation. It's a sign that they have their priorities straight." I then went on to tell them about the young people I know, how they are light-years ahead of where I was at their age, how they are, as young people should, looking for a better deal out of life than the nose-to-the-grindstone crap they have been force fed by grown-ups. I told them how selfish baby boomers have left them with an economy that will, for the first time in American history, leave them less well off financially than previous generations and an environment on the verge of collapse. I shared my support for a generation that is growing up to be far more politically progressive than any generation that has come before it; that I hope they come to power before the ignorant crew who is currently in charge destroys it all; that the young people I know work harder than I ever did; that I'm proud of them for trying to shrug off the burdens others want to place on their backs; and that I'm sick of know nothing fuddy duddies ignorantly running down an entire class of people.

I finished by telling them that all my hopes for the future lie with millennials and that theirs should too. After all, the future belongs to the young and from where I sit, it is in far better hands than is the present.

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