“Must be something in the water; you’re all diseased.”
I’ve been around the internet long enough to know never to read the comment section of Youtube, but I am still sometimes aghast at the vitriol or just plain grumpiness people display on the internet. This comment was from a middle aged man directed at the general “you” of the millennial generation on a very innocent (if hipster) post on a Facebook page I help manage. After overcoming my initial annoyance, I realized: this attitude is pretty common.
People love to criticize Millennials.
They live with their parents.
They are wimps.
They are waaaaayyy too snobby about their coffee.
They don’t vote.
They’re too sensitive.
They just need to work harder.
What on earth is wrong with Millennials?
I find this attitude to be unhelpful.
As a Millennial, I do sometimes stand in consternation of my own generation. I am the first to bury my flushing, embarrassed face in my hands when I watch one of those videos where college students don’t know who won the Civil war. I’ve lived with my parents after graduating college. I’ve wasted as much time on Buzzfeed as the next girl.
I am a part of this generation. The burden of bearing the economy, society, religion and culture in to the next generation is heavy on my shoulders. I, and many good men and women to my left and right, are staring into an uncertain future with grim determination that we will make something of this world. There are things that deeply exasperate me about my generation. There are things I don’t like about myself that stem from my millennial-ness. But, I believe that my generation can be faithful stewards of the world we’ve been given.
This post is for anyone in an older generation who is concerned, annoyed, or confused by Millennials. The attitude of grumpy pessimism I detect towards millennials neither encourages nor convicts. I hope I do not sound patronizing; that is not my intention. I hope only to give a little insight to my wonderful, ridiculous, sincere, mustache growing generation. So, here it is.
Four things to do instead of hating on Millennials.
- Don’t Generalize… Speak forward:
“How might you change the world?Make it more beautiful? Make people know they’re loved?”
These were the questions I grew up hearing my parents ask me and my siblings. There was an underlying assumption that we had something to add to the world. We were privileged with love, education, and freedom. What would we do with it?
This is not the way I see many people talking to and about millennials.
I shy away from calling my friends’ parents “those hippy, sexual revolution nuts.” Firstly, because it would be rude and disrespectful. But perhaps more importantly because it would probably be false. Most of my friend’s parents did not attend Woodstock, and are hardworking, respectable, pious people, who love God, their family, and their country. To equate individuals with the presumed common facts about their generation creates a skewed vision of them based on generalizations.
It is generally a good idea not to relate to people by generalizations. I hope (I wish, nay I pray) this is something most people know. It is inappropriate and usually ineffective to relate to someone based purely on generalizations about their race, gender, or nationality. Why would this be different generationally?
People rise to the expectations they are given. When you speak to a hardworking, faithful Millennial as though they are lazy, wimpy, and profligate, it is disheartening. When you speak to Millennials who may actually need a kind kick in the right direction, you do nothing more than lose their attention. Generalizations make conversation between generations impossible; if you have already made up your mind that my generation is headed for destruction, trying to convince you otherwise seems pointless to me.
Instead of making hasty, damning generalizations, speak forward what you believe Millennials could accomplish… even if they are not currently living up to it. When you speak forward instead of generalizing, you create a positive vision for what the future could hold.
Proverbs says “death and life are in the power of the tongue” (18:21). Let us all bring life, not death.
2. Study Us:
Millennials are not a collective enigma born of chance, fair trade coffee and Facebook. Millennials are a link in the chain of generational history. I often perceive a genuine concern and furrow on the brow of older generations; why on earth are Millennials the way they are?
Let me offer this: I do not believe Millennials simply decided one day to gallantly gallop around crushing every social institution known to man… family… church… politics.
There are good, historical reasons for the ways Millennials relate to the world. Let me hazard a few guesses at some of the elements that have birthed the kaleidoscope of social views and behaviors of Millennials.
Why are they so suspicious of church? Because, in their formative years, they saw the scandals of the Catholic church and the rather fantastic falls of many evangelical leaders; they didn’t know who to trust anymore.
What on earth is it with their political views? Because in their short lives they’ve seen Bill Clinton’s affair, multiple government shut downs, 9/11, email scandals, multiple recessions, sticky foreign policy swamps, terrorist attacks, demagoguery, and aggressive, polarized infighting like no other time in US history. Forgive us if we’re a bit under-enthusiastic.
Why do they live at home? Because we have lived through two recessions, the job market is more difficult to get into than it was, and housing is more expensive than ever! In short: because it was the wisest thing to do, and some of us are lucky enough to have gracious parents.
Sometimes I think the people who criticize Millennials forget that they were the ones who raised us.
I do not mean to let Millennials off the hook. I carry my privilege as a heavy mantle. Many of us have been given a great deal. My point is this: my generation is the way it is because we are bargaining with the past to create a new future.
Our world is insecure and we don’t know what to do about it. Saying Millennials just need to work harder or get a backbone just doesn’t quite cut it. There are real issues that require real consideration. Calling our generation to a high standard involves knowing the history that has made us who we are. I think many Millennials feel out of control and like they can’t do anything to make the world better.
If you want to influence and help millennials in their efforts to live good lives, study us before you speak. What are the issues pulsing at the heart of our existence? What are the fears and pains giving us anxiety?What are the books we’re reading? The music we’re listening to? The youtube videos we’re laughing at?
Before you try to fix millennials, understand them.
3. Mentor us:
When my mama (a writer) entered her fifties, she decided she wanted to mentor and work with younger bloggers. I watched as she entered into the world of women twenty and thirty years younger than her, seeking to understand what made them tick, what made them sad, and what issues they most needed to deal with. I admire her so much and am amazed at the positive, lifegiving influence and wisdom she has poured into me and countless others through humbly entering into our worlds.
Every generation needs the knowledge of the previous generation to move forward wisely. It does sadden me how resistant many of my peers are to input. But, on the opposite end, I see so many people my age starving for guidance they can trust. Many Millennials have been ripped out of the old, countable on-able institutions of church or even neighborhood community, and find themselves very isolated. For whatever reason the older generations have given up on mentoring. Perhaps they feel under-qualified, unwanted, or unsure of where to begin.
Oh, how deeply I crave the insight, care, love, and wisdom of those older than me. I have been deeply blessed by the mentors in my life who have helped me become who I am. I would have floundered (more than I already did) without the love and belief of my parents, professors, and mentors.
Who might flounder because you weren’t there?
If a Millennial reaches out to you, take the chance. Be bold. Help us write a resume. Give us dating advice. Give us a book. Tell us about Jesus. If nothing else, tell us everything you wish you hadn’t done.
Go out to coffee with us. We love that.
4. Love us:
You can’t change something you don’t love. Without love, one will not have the motivation and endurance to wait and work in the hard times. Without love we won’t do any real good. As the Apostle said, “Without Love I am noisy gong and a clanging symbol” (1 Corinthians 13). I struggle with my generation. We frustrate, exasperate, and discourage me. Sometimes I want the world to be different than it is; to be lovely, secure, kind. Sometimes I wish I could be a part of a different time, when the lines between good and evil seemed clearer. But I love my generation. I have to.
As is so often the case, Tolkien gives me the words to understand my experience.
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” (J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring).
This is the generation I was supposed to be born into. By God’s grace, I will do my best to create beauty, preserve truth, cherish humanity, and honor the great cloud of witnesses who have run the race before me. What I ask of you, oh Older Generation Reader, is this: Love us. Pray for us. Don’t regard us with contempt. We have quite a world ahead of us to change.
Millennials are not “diseased” as my internet friend asserted. We are a complex, flawed, passionate, sincere generation faced with wild world full of perils and possibilities, but we can’t do it alone. Will you help?