Millennials will prove to be a great generation

By Ethan Gauvin
On April 15, 2014

Lazy. Entitled. Apathetic. These are but a sampling of the adjectives used to describe my generation, the Millennials. As a millennial myself (anyone born in the 1980s to early 2000s), it can be hard to disagree with these assessments. I've met countless individuals my age who tremble at the thought of working a nine-to-five job, who shirk basic responsibilities while expecting their parents to pay for a college education, and whose strongest ambitions consist of finding the best party on campus.

This is not an isolated occurrence, either. I have experienced the same phenomenon when visiting friends across the country. Los Angeles, D.C., New York City-the same air of irresponsibility persists. Even when studying abroad in England and traveling Europe I noticed similar "Generation Me" tendencies from young adults: digital fixation, slight narcissism and a churlish loathing of authority. One particularly nihilistic Brit told me that he joined in London's 2011 riots for no other reason than "to break something."

It's not difficult to understand why previous generations have been so critical of us. The baby boomers, our parents, may be the most adamant. But how much of the blame do Millennials deserve? Raised in an era of impossibly high expectations, standardized tests, insanely competitive college admissions and abysmal job prospects, how can my generation not be at least partially self-absorbed? The expectations imposed upon us have been ingrained into our character. Anything less than what our parents achieved is a failure, anything greater is merely standard.

Our sense of entitlement is misconstrued. We weren't born with it. Rather, we were taught it. Millennials encountered a childhood devoid of much responsibility. Our desires and material wants were met with little resistance; chores were rare and free time plentiful.

But this is not to lay the blame on our parent's generation - parents who loved us and wanted nothing more than to provide us with the best childhood possible - it is instead meant to make you think about the issue in a different light. Millennials sit at the crossroads of a comfortable upbringing and a ruthless world - a world far more unforgiving, both economically and politically, than our parents faced.

We are sick and fed up with the society that we have inherited. Millennials were raised with unlimited information at our fingertips; we were exposed to the entire world - its beauty, complexity and tragedy - as soon as we learned how to connect to the Internet. We are intimately aware of global crises and the suffering of others. We are digital natives; our parents are digital immigrants. No other generation in history has experienced a fraction of this global exposure so quickly.

Because of this, we reject many norms and standards. We are suspicious of large institutions, whether it's government, religion or a corporation. We reject binary choices, such the one on an American ballot, because we have been raised in an era of infinite options. In a sociological study of Millennials, political scientist Michelle Diggles writes: "They eschew ideological purity tests of the past. In short, they are winnable by both parties, if only policymakers understood and reflected their values."

Millennials appreciate history and recognize that a blind belief in anything is the most destructive part of human nature. This makes us pragmatic and willing to listen to those we disagree with. I was fortunate enough to spend a week at a political conference in Kentucky in which I met students from all 50 states. We came from different backgrounds and our political opinions differed sharply, but what amazed me was our eagerness to learn from one another and, above all, our determination to compromise rather than idealize.

Even when it comes to the principles the West holds dear: democracy, freedom and capitalism, we are cautious. We embrace these principles, but not at the expense of our objectivity. We are the first to ask: how much evil must we do in order to do good? 9/11 and two wars in the Middle East have forced us to think critically and soberly. Some have even called Millennials "Generation 9/11." Unlike older generations, we are willing and able to reevaluate our worldview. We seek to understand the why and how instead of simply the who and what.

This lends itself to what may be our most magnanimous trait: tolerance. More than any other generation, we are tolerant of different opinions, people and cultures. Our unprecedented digital connectivity allows us to interact with individuals we would have never met had we been born several decades ago. Our collective melting pot of ideas, perspectives and voices is larger than any in the past and will allow us to solve global crises through a mutual desire to learn from one another and collaborate.

Yes, these traits even apply to the Millennials who are, in the short term, more concerned about having a good time than anything else. We may be socially transfixed, digitally obsessed and unconsciously expectant, but we are profoundly more aware, optimistic, and open-minded than our predecessors. Our weaknesses are consistently exaggerated and our strengths are often overlooked. But despite the instantaneous rate at which information now travels, our naysayers have a tiny audience-and in the end history will look upon us kindly. 


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