It’s been a year since I first wrote “From one voice of Generation Y“, written due to my long frustration with being unable to find editorials that represent my generation as counterpoints to the rampant ageism in mainstream media. I was surprised when I saw how many likes it was receiving, as I regularly read far better writers than myself (hence why I have the sidebar). Yet I am honoured that it resonated with so many people young and old. I can see that it is quite a popular topic especially now that most of us have become adults and face our own unique challenges, so I may as well share more of my experiences with growing up as a millennial.
I had attended an NDP meeting recently, and one thing I will remember from the event was a conversation I had with a woman afterwards. We talked about the issues facing youth today, and she apologized that her generation left us with such a heavy burden, including environmental degradation and trouble getting employed. It felt personal, and though I did not say it directly, I felt grateful. To be understood. To be seen as valid. To be respected.
It’s an irritating catch-22 situation. We are chided for not getting involved in social issues, but when we do, we are treated as if our voice means nothing. That was the message ingrained in me from childhood. I was a dependent, therefore I had no right to say anything. I was young and naive, so my opinions had little value. To some extent, this was true. I was easily swayed by articles on the Internet because I did not have enough experience to form my own perspectives. But ignorance does not go away just because you reach adulthood, as the Tea Party can attest to. It was a hard lesson to take, that my parents were not always right, but it was essential. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them, but realizing that my family had flaws too meant I could start respecting myself. That I deserved respect too. And so does everyone else. Yes, even Ayn Rand (in the sense of understanding why people like that have the viewpoints they do).
By itself, intelligence doesn’t mean shit in the real world. It’s what you do with it that defines who you are. I once read in my psychology notes that cults tend to recruit young, intelligent college students. I didn’t fully believe it at the time, as I was a high academic achiever with a “that can’t happen to me” attitude. But of course, it did and I did not recognize it. That same attitude made me look down on other students. I wasn’t like the others. I worked hard, never spoke out in class, and focused on studies over materialistic pursuits, drugs, sex, the like. That was a myth of course. I am often lazy and got into trouble a fair bit. In reality, I had the attitude of a sycophant. Long after the fact, I realized just how much society teaches us to sell our generation out by giving us the carrot of “being a good example” and the stick of an “entitled generation” meme (one that is contradictory and illogical, but a meme nonetheless). And realizing you bought into something without thinking? That sucks. Realizing that you failed to respect people? That sucks even more.
You can learn a lot about a person from what they say about others. Privileged individuals often mock the less privileged for “being offended”. And yet they seem to get awfully angry when someone complains about racism, sexism, the like, as if it hurt them personally. Isn’t that “being offended”, since said complaints are frequently calm and matter-of-fact? It’s the same with “entitlement”. We are mocked for standing up for ourselves, for protesting over student tuition, the environment, social justice issues, the like. But by actively opposing change that would work to mutual benefit just because you might lose out a bit, doesn’t that make you the most entitled one of all? I’m not a fan of blame games, but when the 80’s started the neoliberal trend that caused the mess we’re in right now, it seems hypocritical to pin the blame on those who want to clean it up.
People naturally gravitate towards respect. So when journalists complain about young people getting their news from the Internet, well, duh. Why would I want to constantly read about how I’m a lazy, spoiled brat for wanting to be respected as an autonomous human being? This is why I became a fan of independent newspapers. Sure, sometimes the lack of writing experience shows, but they are usually written by people who are relatable and more honest. It was the Vancouver Observer that broke the news about the government spying on anti-oil sands groups, after all. And who better to talk about our generation’s challenges than ourselves? Regardless of age, independent newspapers know their audience includes a wide variety of people and thus tend to be more respectful, something mainstream publications could learn from.
When I think of an iconic show from our generation, one that comes to mind is Hey Arnold! It was a show that seemed to really get young people, and even while characters like Helga and Harold could be jerks, they had sympathetic sides to them. In fact, both children and adults were fallible, but as they learned the error of their ways, I often thought of the episodes I watched when dealing with my own issues. Similarly, iconic music for me were the singer-songwriters at the turn of the millenium. I really felt like I grew up with Vanessa Carlton and Kelly Clarkson as I listen to their more recent songs, and discovering Lily Allen and Sara Bareilles is a real treat (by the way, Brave is really worth a listen). People often treat the quality of entertainment media as something linear, hence the resentment towards the stuff people had to read in school, but I think it’s more an issue of how effective it is at clicking with you on a personal level. We should celebrate different tastes rather than insist on forcing a “one-size-fits-all” approach in telling people what to see or hear. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a science fiction geek or English professor; being exposed to different sides of humanity enhance our lives as a whole.
In the end, respect has no age limit. I even veered from talking about Generation Y specifically at times because a lot of issues are universal. And that’s the point; millennials have flaws, and I personally have many, but that doesn’t make us any less deserving of respect since our problems are not entirely unique. And for the ones that are, empathy is a more constructive tool than derision. Instead of constantly scapegoating other generations for the problems we face, why not focus on solving the real problems?