1. We’re scared.
The world we have inherited is a very, very scary world, full of looming catastrophes that no one before us has ever had to face. It stands on a razor’s edge, and the changes that must come about if it is to survive are almost unimaginable. We are the ones who have to make those changes happen and, to be completely honest, we’re not certain we can do it. We are very young and we don’t know how to run the world yet. Things always work out in movies, but in real life sometimes things don’t work out, and this may be one of those times. We may yet be the generation that watches helplessly as the world dies. That’s a hell of a thing to live with.
2. We’re lonely.
Why do you think we spend so much time on our little devices? Why do you think we love those little lists of ’90s childhood nostalgia items that make us feel like we’re part of something? I hate to pull the Internet card, but it really is hard to feel not alone in this world where so much of our social interaction takes place over media that display the relative success or failure of our every utterance, in the form of likes or comments or retweets, until even IRL conversations turn into contests of who can spit out the cleverest one-liner. We have this idea, or maybe this reflex, telling us that the way to feel less alone is to say the right clever thing, the thing that will make people like us. And it’s not true, but still we keep on trying and trying because sometimes it’s like that’s all there is.
3. It hurts when you say mean things about us.
Not because the things you say aren’t true – I admit there is some truth to them, otherwise they wouldn’t hurt – but because you talk about us as if we were non-human life forms. You freely ascribe stereotypical behaviors to us, but show little interest in trying to understand the actual feelings behind those behaviors. All I see is frustration, along with a sort of shoulder-nudging camaraderie – “Haha, how about those kids, huh?” – like you’re bonding with each other over your shared contempt for us.
I’ll bet that’s fun. I’ll bet it feels really good to you. But it doesn’t feel good to us. It actually feels really bad. Maybe I’m not speaking for everyone, but I think I’m speaking for a lot of people my age when I say that the things you say hit very close to home, and in a way that makes us think not “I’d better get my act together” so much as “Well, I guess I’m just worthless. I guess they’re never going to take me seriously. Why even bother?”
And then I think about all the terrifying things we’re going to have to deal with in the terrifyingly near future. And I think, “Well, what hope do we have? If we’re about to face some of the hardest challenges that any generation has ever had to face, and we’re as worthless as our parents say we are, then why even get out of bed in the morning? Why have any hope at all?” And I know there are plenty of reasons to have hope, but when I read one of those things you write about us, that’s kind of how it feels.
4. It’s not that we think we’re special, it’s that we’re terrified that we aren’t.
A recent viral blog post asserted that people of our generation feel that we are “special” – that we “feel entitled to a level of respect and rewards that aren’t in line with their actual ability and effort levels.” The notion of specialness that this blog post takes for granted is totally binary: “most people,” it says, “are not special – otherwise “special” wouldn’t mean anything.” In other words:
There are two kinds of people in the world, the kind that are special and the kind that are not special. You’re probably not special. And if you’re worrying about whether or not you’re special then you’re definitely not special, because special people don’t worry about whether or not they’re special – they are too busy doing special-people things like solving world hunger and writing the Great American Novel and living in cool apartments with exposed brick and getting laid. If you are special, you will do great things and everyone will envy and respect you and your name will echo in history forever. If you’re not special, you will just spend a handful of decades bumbling along living your sad little life, not really doing anything important or noteworthy. Then you will die and most people won’t remember you, and after a little while it will be like you never even existed at all. Also there is no such thing as heaven or anything analogous, so this life in which you are probably not special is all there is and all there ever will be.
If the word “special” means what this post seems to think it means, then the above paragraph is true. And if the above paragraph is true then, my God, who could possibly be blamed for wanting so desperately to be special? If we’re not special, then we’re nothing.
5. We don’t like being disappointments.
The author of an anti-Millennials op-ed piece in the Boston Globe earlier this month cited, among other things, the Japanese trend of hikikomori, where “young people…don’t leave the house at all, not because they’re scared like agoraphobics, but because their needs are met and they’re content.” That second part is absurd. It’s impossible as a human being to be in your house all day and still have all your needs met. People have a need to go outside and have social contact and participate in life. If you’re not doing that, it can only be because you’re afraid.
I don’t like to talk about this, because it’s embarrassing, but I’ve spent plenty of time behind closed doors doing nothing with my life. I once spent over a year living in my parents’ basement, not having a job, not really looking for a job. And it was not because all my needs were met and I was content. It was because I was scared. It was because I thought I didn’t have it in me to be a real person. And when I read those op-ed pieces about people like me who live in their parents’ basements and don’t have what it takes to be real people, how do you think that made me feel? Do you think it was helpful? Do you think it made me say, “Hoo boy, they’re onto me, better get my act together”? No, it made me burrow further under the covers and wish I’d never been born.
6. We are part of your life.
Next time you have the impulse try your hand at this popular new genre, first ask yourself the following question: Is there a Millennial in my life? Is the frustration that I claim to be expressing about an entire generation in a public forum really just the frustration I am feeling about my own son or daughter who has so far failed to meet my expectations? If that is the case, and I suspect it might be, consider that maybe a better course of action might be just to have a conversation with your son or daughter, and that writing an article in a newspaper is a little passive-aggressive and maybe not the best way to handle the situation.
7. You have the power to help us if you want.
Take a moment to think about what you’re trying to accomplish with these anti-us diatribes. Are you trying to help us? Or are you just having a little fun at our expense? If it’s the latter, then by all means, continue. If what you’re trying to do is bond generationally over your shared derision for the younger people, as we so enjoy bonding over GIF’s of Full House and Nickelodian, then by all means, carry on. I thought you were better than that. I guess I was wrong.
But if what you want is to help us – help us help ourselves, help us save the world – I promise you there are far better ways to go about it. For instance – maybe you remember this from when you were our age: when you’re in your 20s, and someone who is old enough to be one of your parents, but who is not related to you, does something to make it clear to you that they see you as a human being, as a young man or woman with potential, as someone who, given guidance and resources, could become a real human being, it is HUGE. When you take us aside, maybe take us out to lunch, and say something to the effect of “I see something in you, and I believe in you, and I think you have what it takes to really make something of yourself,” it can make all the difference in the world. If you do that for one of us, you may be astonished by the results. And if enough of you do something like that for enough of us, in a couple of years you might not even want to write those anti-Millennial things anymore, and everyone will be happier for it.