Millennials, for those who aren’t certain, are the generation born between 1982 and 2000. Why is that important? Well, according to a 2015 census conducted by our government, we now make up more than one-fourth of the U.S. population.
I was born in 1990, something like the peak of all Millennials and the middle ground for when they would have been born. In 1990, there were 4.158 million live births in the U.S., the highest number to that date and a number not to be exceeded until 2008, when we were all presumably graduating high school. To some degree, I wonder if this was some foreshadowing into what our futures were going to look like, being the peak of the middle ground of it all.
We would be the first generation to experience high speed internet, home computers becoming a commodity rather than a luxury, and smart phones becoming a necessity rather than even a commodity. We would also be one of the last generations to function without these new technologies, riding our bikes home in the dark without interruption from our parents texting or calling, watching movies with our friends without first seeing how good or bad a film was through the review aggregators.
Now, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Google, we are the first generation that flocks to our phones and computers, rather than turning on the radio or TV to hear the latest in breaking news. A physical newspaper is little more than packaging material for us these days.
Not only do we opt for a new medium when it comes to our news consumption, we can also opt for the narratives that best suit our biases.
It was interesting observing how deeply political our society had become during the 2016 election cycle. I watched a “Kids React” episode of children reacting to the different campaign ads and wondered about my own inclinations as a child in politics.
In 1996, all I remember was that in first grade, we were taught about Presidential elections and given fake ballots to cast votes for Bob Dole or Bill Clinton. I chose Bill Clinton because he looked cool, but I knew absolutely nothing about the different political parties or his policies.
I grew up in a home where we didn’t watch very much news, and as immigrants, my parents didn’t have very much in the way of political opinions. They were too far entrenched in assimilating to the American lifestyle and providing for their children to be involved in that. I’m actually thankful for this, because now, when I see kids involved in politics, it’s not that I doubt their ability to understand, but I do wonder if their parents are using them as props.
As a child, I had the great freedom of only having to argue my beliefs that the Backstreet Boys were better than my sister’s favorite: N*SYNC. Pokemon being more popular than Digimon was the only injustice I was aware of, and recycling or saving the rainforests were learned as life lessons to become good stewards, rather than political positions.
When I got into high school, I sided with the Democratic Party on nearly every stance, because as a teenager, I viewed them as the party that was the least restrictive of our freedoms and the issues that were then important to myself and my friends.
Most of these issues were social: gay rights, trans rights, women’s rights (reproductive ones at that), and even gun control and the economy were important to me then. These are still important to me, especially with a better understanding of the Constitution.
As I got older, I joined clubs like Model United Nations, Asian Pacific Affairs, and Amnesty International in a pursuit of my passion to learn about and help others. I noted the disparity of equal treatment of minorities and women that our government participated in throughout our history, and I determined the impact that this has had on our society today. Because of the lasting impact of this past, I still find it appropriate for our government to continue to make reparations to the cultures and communities that they damaged in their expansion to what our nation has become today.
In the 2016 election, I threw heavy support for radical progressive leader Bernie Sanders. Bernie and I don’t agree on everything, but I did agree with him on quite a few things. Furthermore, he struck me as the only candidate that genuinely understood the U.S.’s need to catch up with the rest of the Western developed world in our efforts to combat climate change and focus on the truest equalizer in our society today: our economy.
For years I had railed against the GOP for what I perceived as often racist, homophobic, and downright elitist undertones of so many of their policies, as they disregarded the obvious privilege afforded to most of their constituents based on their demographic. But as 2016 came to its close, I watched Dems begin to play on the other side of that coin, and that was not just to point out privilege, but to punish anyone who had it, and stomp out any perspective that disagreed with their own.
Neither of these positions strikes me as the best way to go about doing things.
I feel like I spend most of my time walking into the daily news cycle looking like Donald Glover in Community as Troy during that pizza scene. This is in part because we as a nation (not as a whole, but in the single most divisive election I have ever witnessed) elected a president that was essentially a reality TV star. Donald J. Trump is a one man circus, using his skills of switching and baiting, distraction, and all the best words to put on a show, and we’re all sitting on the edge of our seats with our eyes glued to the spectacle, scratching our heads.
The other part of my confusion and disbelief at American society today, as it pertains to our news cycle and politics, is the spin and extremist reactions on both the left and the right. The protests and riots around UC Berkley and Evergreen College were absolutely disgraceful to institutions of higher learning that are supposed to teach the power of reason and well developed thoughtfulness. The willful ignorance of science and fact whilst endorsing unethical party leaders just because you feel as if your party is “winning” despite how disgraceful it is to your own core values and beliefs is disgusting. I could write a book on the hypocrisies and atrocities committed by the left and the right, on behalf of what seems like identity politics alone.
Because of the spin, and all of the narrative pushing, I’ve now begun to look deeper into any big “story” that impacts my life as an ordinary American in any way. I’ve had to. There were so many fake news stories and quotes that promoted or degraded both the left and the right in 2016 that besides “emails”, “fact-checking” was easily the second most used phrase of the year, and arguably the most important.
The other thing I began doing was listening to perspectives and people that I disagreed with, and I mean really listening. I wasn’t listening to what they were saying and thinking of a comeback or rebuttal, I was just legitimately listening to try to understand. And once I understood? I either agreed or disagreed and attempted to get them to understand where I was coming from. The key there is seeking understanding, not agreement.
What I’ve learned from this deeper dive system, is that few people are ever 100% right, and most people are barely even “mostly” right. When we actually stop to listen to one another to try to understand, a lot of us end up somewhere in the middle, or at least compromising something.
But compromise is for cowards, and centrism is the devil. Right? Left. Just kidding.
Seriously though, what I’ve discovered about myself through this process is that there are quite a few issues on the spectrum that I lean pretty left on, but also quite a few that I lean pretty far right on. What I attempt to do is use my best judgment, reasoning, and logic, to determine what makes the most sense, regardless of what side of the political spectrum something lands on.
I also try to focus less on what I consider “petty issues” that distract or detract from larger issues that are more important to me. What ends up happening is that I don’t comment on absolutely everything, and what I do share an opinion about tends to be (though not always) as inoffensive to both the left and right as possible, because both liberals and conservatives can be easily triggered when they’re extremists. My hope is that if I speak with reason and do well to understand someone else’s position, civil discourse leads to some kind of middle ground of understanding and acceptance of one another.
Maybe that’s just me embracing my upbringing as a Millennial though. I’m a kind of person that wants to appreciate the best of both worlds, whilst recognizing the inevitable flaws offered by both as well. I mean, feeling the freedom of technology not having a huge role in how I grew up, except for the occasional video game or movie, was cool. But it’s also pretty cool that I can keep in touch with my friends and family that live 1,000+ miles away from me with just the click of a button. I’ve lived in both worlds, and what a gift that actually is to get to experience the end of one era and the beginning of a new one.
So it goes with my brand of politics that I can’t really call myself a leftist or a right-winger, let alone a Republican or Democrat. I care more about being correct than politically correct, but that means a multitude of things and in no way implies that what is deemed “politically correct” isn’t actually just correct. I mean, who wants to be wrong all the time, or any of the time? As a great YouTuber once said, “If you always want to be right, you have to always be willing to change your mind.” I’m paraphrasing @cgprey but I feel like this is pretty close to what he said, and sits well with me as a way to operate.
Per my political beliefs, why would I rob myself of some truly important experience by enclosing my mind and values into only one side of the political spectrum? It goes against the very nature of my upbringing as a Millennial.
I’ve had “friends” from the left and the right opt to dismiss me from their lives, and therefore discourse, because I’ve disagreed with them, and they found offense in that rather than attempt to understand my perspective. I’ll call you out if you say, do, or endorse a racist thing. I will also call you out if you say, do, or endorse a hypocritical thing. I’m interested in having a discussion with my friends if we disagree on something. If the narrative they’re pushing or endorsing is somehow harmful or counter to the truth, I think it’s appropriate to engage your friends to attempt to understand where they’re coming from, and challenge one another to look beyond the echo chambers of their party affiliations.
Not choosing a side makes you look like a coward though, showing some kind of fear of commitment or unwillingness to stand up for something. It seems like no one really likes a moderate, because we’re either “Never Trumpers” or cowardly centrists. I’m a Millennial though, so I’ve gotten kind of used to society failing to understand me and bashing me through a general and shallow scope. I stand my ground on this though, whatever the implications.
To that extent, I’ll end this on a Bible quote that comes to mind, as I consider my position in this extremely polarized chaos that we now call modern American Politics:
“And one of the scribes came to Him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow You wherever You go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.’” (Matt 8:19-20)