A young man I know recently posted this quote I’ve seen a few times:
“I am a millennial. Generation Y; born between the birth of AIDS and 9/11, give or take. They call us the global generation. We are known for our entitlement and narcissism. Some say it’s because we’re the first generation where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up. Others think it’s because social media allows us to post when we fart or have a sandwich for all the world to see. But it seems our one defining trait is a numbness to the world. An indifference to suffering.”
While this is technically untrue (Gen Y is defined as being born in the early 80s and the virus that causes AIDS in 1983), the fact that he would feel the need to post this in reference to he and his era made me think a little.
Being born in 1979, I’m technically a member of Generation X but I fall into the grey area on that is the area between the end of Gen X and the beginning of Gen Y (one ends and the other begins in the early 80s.) According to the internet (the authority on all things true…) Generation X is described as:
“People born between 1961 and 1981, are highly educated, active, balanced, happy and family oriented. The study dispels the materialistic, slacker, disenfranchised stereotype associated with youth in the 1970 and 80s. Unlike their parents who challenged leaders with an intent to replace them, Gen Xers are less likely to idolize leaders and are more inclined to work toward long-term institutional and systematic change through economic, media and consumer actions. Compared with previous generations, Generation X represents a more apparently heterogeneous generation, openly acknowledging and embracing social diversity in terms of such characteristics as race, class, religion, ethnicity, culture, language, gender identity, and sexual orientation.”
Pretty good right? Well it would be, if it were entirely true. Let’s look at some of the pop culture that reflects that generation (X): Movies like The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, Empire Records and even Kevin Smith’s Clerks defined Gen X young adults growing up over two decades. What did they really say about us? All were essentially young adult characters who were more interested in philosophizing and falling in love than actually settling with a long-term career and family. Sure it’s fiction, but that still sounds a little more accurate when I recall my high school environment and the years after. It’s a generalization of course, and the majority of us have turned into functional, comfortable members of society on some level. But generally speaking generation X was whimsical growing up, and eventually they got really good at it. So good, in fact, that they brought the rebel, non-suit, out-of-box mentality to corporate America (and the White House…) and created some of the more innovative and successful companies ever, many of which specialized in consumer technology and quite literally paved the way for the very traits that defined the following generation.
But what’s important to remember here is that generation X had a pretty slow start. They started in the shadow of the post WWII baby boomers in an era where space travel was a magical, advanced reality from a distance, but beyond that their worlds were very small. They lived in communities and had long-developed routines from the generations that came before them. They rebelled against this by really not doing anything for a long time. They slacked off, and they dreamed of doing something different, and easier than what was always done. Only years later as they came into their prime and felt the desire to leave their mark on the world, did they focus their mental abilities on developing better ways to productively do less. That’s right kids, modern technology was developed and advanced by Generation X to make it easier to get by while being lazier. At work, at home, for entertainment, the Gen X folks created more ways to get things done without really doing anything. Naturally, the whole world adopted these revolutionary ideas, and the world that once was vast and localized became much, much smaller and connected. So the stage was set, for Generation Y.
“They call us the global generation.”
Yes indeed, that’s more accurate than it’s ever been. With the world (excluding those at least directly walled off) now connected, any person, anywhere is literally a few button pushes away. With that comes information some people never ever dreamed existed as well as realities about the planet and the people that inhabit it that many could not imagine and would rather have not known. The world is small now and it’s innocence is lost. For anyone that is connected, the bliss of ignorance is essentially destroyed.
“We are known for our entitlement and narcissism.”
What they should really be known for, is being born to a world that nobody else ever has been. Do you think people were never entitled before you? Far more so. And narcissism has also existed since people discovered their reflection. For somebody to suggest that generation Y is any worse is just silly. One look at the class-based societal structure that dominated much of the world throughout the history of civilization will show you a great deal of very obvious entitlement and narcissism. The only difference Generation Y has shown, is that they accept it as a flaw, and don’t care to hide it. They are the first generation born with the ability to broadcast everything they are to the world, their perfections and flaws and celebrate it. In short, they give zero fucks about the labels anyone places on their humanity. Gen Xers started it by rebelling against what was always traditionally “proper” on a massive scale, and generation Y is simply taking it another step further. Humanity is, and always has been flawed. Generation Y is just not buying in to pretending it’s not. They are the most real generation we’ve yet encountered.
“Some say it’s because we’re the first generation where every kid gets a trophy just for showing up. Others think it’s because social media allows us to post when we fart or have a sandwich for all the world to see.”
Unfortunately, being real is not all fun and games. While Generation Y has produced some of the most brilliant and revolutionary minds possibly ever, the flip side is that they are rapidly dismantling the curtain that so much of humanity had pulled over themselves in the previous generations. When that curtain is pulled back and that light is cast, the reality of humanity, possibly even the majority of it, is ugly. With the world connected, there is nowhere to hide, so the ignorance, lies, brutality and utterly pointless evil of humanity is exposed over and over again, every day. Many ignore it by focusing on that “fart” or “sandwich” that was posted instead. Some recognize and passionately speak out against it. Some actually do something. But the reality that Generation Y has to face more than any generation before it is the constant reminder that humans generally suck, and there’s no simple way to fix it. No longer is it the good guys vs the bad guys like the Allies and Axis. Now it’s “our ideas vs your ideas, and we’re both wrong, but let’s see who is less wrong.” It’s no different than it ever was throughout history, but now it is seen and cannot be unseen. Now it stares Generation Y in the face.
“But it seems our one defining trait is a numbness to the world. An indifference to suffering.”
This is also nothing new. Before perhaps, a great deal of blissful ignorance took the place of numbness or indifference. But what really happened is that Generation X created the tools to remove the pretty wrapping, and Generation Y cut it away. What faces them was an ugly, festering wound that had always been there and they realized they (like all the generations before them) were causing it. It isn’t numbness or indifference to the suffering, it’s more like hopelessness. It’s more like “Oh jesus christ.. it’s everywhere.. it’s the whole world.. it’s ME.. how the hell can I possibly fix THIS!?” This realization is quite literally paralyzing. It forces people to just keep doing what they were doing, or following who they were following, because if they don’t find something to do in order to distract themselves or feel like they are helping, they risk falling into fear, despair and depression. It’s not the first time people have discovered humanity’s penchant for terrible things, but it’s the first time it’s been a forced global awareness. That, is what Generation Y has to face.
So, how do we fix it? God? Though many still attend and have their faith, religion is no longer the blind fix-all it oncechampioned itself as, and the more progressive religions admit that outright. Our “leaders”? Well American politics is questionable at it’s absolute best because even a good person at the top has to listen to what represents “the majority”. We have to face that said majority is more often than not controlled by a majority of people that are part of the problem. At the same time though, we’re well past the point of no return in terms of society. Without outside intervention (ie: catastrophe or act of god) there is no way to “reset” the rules of the game. No, there is no clear way to fix it. Thankfully though, more and more people from Generation X and Generation Y (and even those before them) are trying. I think the best way any individual can do anything at this point is find the people who have learned the rules of the game, are doing what they believe are the right things the right way, and then follow them.
But first things first. The feelings that spawn the quote from the beginning of this article are the challenge that Generation Y must overcome. What the quote said is not the problem, where it came from is. What I mean is that nothing rings more true for Generation Y, the aware generation, than the need to face themselves. Before you can be a part of any solution, you have to be certain you’re not a part of the problem. It may sound cliche’ and zen-like, but when a huge amount of individuals learn to be all the things so much of humanity has not traditionally been: straightforward, peaceful and especially honest.. then the world will notice and just maybe the world will change. Maybe it is a little narcissistic, but you have to fix you first, end of story. Perhaps that will be the legacy passed on to the next generation.