“I find by sad Experience how the Towns and Streets are filled with lewd wicked Children, and many Children as they have played about the Streets have been heard to curse and swear and call one another Nick-names...” Robert Russel, 1695
“Probably there is no period in history in which young people have given such emphatic utterance to a tendency to reject that which is old and to wish for that which is new.” Portsmouth Evening News, 1936
There are lots of folks who have issues with the generation born between (according to Bing) 1981 and 1996. Millennials. Some of the more common accusations cast their way (almost always via the internet or media) are they feel entitled, they are slaves to their phones, they are unprofessional, they feel entitled, they are too woke and they are too arrogant. Did I mention they feel entitled?
Complaints about this or that generation go back forever. Reference the title above from The Who's signature song “My Generation”. Remember the famous lyric, “Hope I die before I get old.”
I must admit as a bit of a geezer (Elvis was still making movies when I arrived on the scene) I find myself nodding at some of the assertions I encounter regarding millennials. They often seem to display a rather tepid and fragile sense of humor which, I feel, often manifests itself in over-the-top wokeness and an air of superiority. Quite annoying.
So, how did millennials as a generation come to share so many irritating traits? Has to be parenting, right? Seems unlikely their irksome homogeneous attributes are coincidental. A lot of thought, effort and helicopter parenting must have gone into producing a generation reviled by so much of the internet. It was the parents!
I can remember my dear departed dad railing on the hippie generation. Bums, the whole lot, in his estimation. But the hippie generation, of course, was raised by The Greatest Generation. How could that be? The Greatest Generation raised The Worst Generation? They nailed it when it came to surviving dust bowls and soup lines, fighting Nazis and the Empire of Japan, but not so much raising little Jane and Jim and Janis?
Yet another generation reviled by its predecessors.
But now the boomers (the hippie generation - generally accepted as those born between 1946 and 1964) are personified in our culture by some of the most successful human beings in the history of, well, successful human beings. Think Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak in technology and business. Think Oprah and Steven Spielberg in entertainment. In addition, no matter what side of the political divide you find yourself on, there's a good chance boomers are at the top of the food chain for your particular tribe. Think Chuck Schumer and Donald Trump (sorry, Joe Biden was born in 1942). In law, think Clarence Thomas and Sonia Sotomayor.
As for millennials, I spent the past decade of my life living in the suburbs of a major American city. I lived in an apartment during that period and had a tendency to sit on my patio at night with a drink and cigar. I suppose I am not the most touchy-feely guy in the world, but the waft of cigar smoke and the promise of a free drink brought many people to my doorstep over the years and not a few were millennials.
Yes, they seemed a bit more fragile than those of my generation and, certainly, earlier generations. However, the trait I most consistently identified in my young friends was empathy. Some (not all, by any means) might get their knickers in a knot over an old bit by Richard Pryor or Bill Hicks (mercy, especially Hicks). But they were flesh and blood human beings, not characters I encountered via the media or internet, and I cannot imagine a single one of them saying an unkind word to, or about, a less fortunate person.
Millennials come out of an era of political correctness. As with anything, taken to extremes it is bad. That said, moderately applied, it is a good thing. Good lord, my dad told stories of teachers calling him four-eyes when he was in grade school. No political correctness there. When I grew up, at times, the playground was half a step removed from Lord of the Flies. It made my generation tougher. And also meaner. At least with the millennial friends I made, they may be many things, but they are not mean.
So, maybe they had great parents after all, and their common traits should be writ large in the overall population?
Or maybe just this: we're born into this world to (hopefully) well-meaning parents who do their best and we are exposed to the idiosyncrasies and uncertainties of our times and, predictably, are influenced by them. I did not grow up with a computer in my hand more powerful than all the computers that sent men to the moon. That benefited me in some ways and held me back in others. I don't know what that's like and am not all fired up to find out.
Are there millennials who are horse's patoots? Yep, and that leads to an awareness that judging any group of human beings (you and I included) by accidents of birth is a tricky proposition. We are all individuals even though we share attributes with our contemporaries. That said, perhaps, criticism for any generation as a whole should be tempered by humility and an understanding best expressed in the old saying, “You bloom where you're planted.”
Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it. George Orwell