Once again, it seems that the generation known as “millennials” is getting bashed and beaten on social media and other forums. A short video clip featuring some guy named Simon Sinek going on and on about why the millennials are basically fucked up has gone viral. While he makes one or two somewhat valid points, most of what he is saying is pure nonsense, and it’s only eleven minutes in to his self-important rants and raves that he only superficially touches on a couple of valid points.
Let me summarize my take on the millennial generation: the primary problem they have is the shithole that their parents, the baby boomers, my generation, have made of the world that they will be asked to save. It’s the baby boomers (my generation and parents to the millennials), inheritors of the greatest economy in history (post world war two America), who have made such a mess of things.
Let’s look at some of the “problems” that are associated with millennials:
1) They are lazy. Parents and grandparents have been attaching this label to every younger generation since the beginning of the industrial revolution. What they are reacting to is progress and automation. None of us have to work as hard for our basic survival as our ancestors did, while most of us are engaged in some kind of work that they couldn’t even imagine.
2) They lack patience and have short attention spans. This is true, but not just of millennials, but of pretty much all of us who have been raised in the ages of television and the internet and the dreaded cell phone.
3) “Participation awards” – This is the most often and perhaps most ridiculous reason cited for why the millennials are so awful. Why is this ridiculous? Because for every municipal co-ed “just for fun” softball and basketball leagues that give these away, there are a half dozen or so “travelling” teams, baseball and basketball teams that travel from tournament to tournament around the country, and operate on a year round basis. These teams pray upon the fathers out there who have failed at their own unfulfilled impossible dreams of sports stardom and projected them onto their children (mainly their sons), whom they are convinced have a real chance of signing that million dollar NBA or NFL contract one day. Well, sorry, it’s simply not going to happen – there are currently 450 active players in the NBA and 1,696 in the NFL. That’s a whopping 2,146 job openings out of a population of 318,900,000 (which is just the USA population and doesn’t factor in the growing international candidates), or .0000067294 of us who make a living as a pro football or basketball player, which is getting into the odds of being struck by lightning or winning the lottery. I’d argue that these organizations and the time demands they place on not just the children but the entire family cause more harm than the rec-leagues that are open about the fact they are more focused on developing social skills than the next Lebron James.
4) Their parents taught them they are “special” when in fact they are not. I don’t know how to react to this one. Are they saying that we (the boomers) were the first generation of parents to tell our children they are special (we weren’t), or that they (the millennials) were the first generation to believe it (they didn’t any more than their parents did when they were told the same thing)? But let’s assume for a moment that they really did believe it when they were told they are “special.” Is that such a bad thing? A little bit of self- confidence? Maybe they’ll stand up for themselves and not swallow the shit sandwich employers all too often fed their parents. “Paid overtime? Affordable health insurance? Family friendly policies? What, do you think you’re special or something?”
This is where the real difference in the millennials and the boomers manifests itself. The millennials have seen their parents work obscenely long hours only to be replaced by someone or some machine that works cheaper. They’ve grown up in an environment where mom and dad not only both had to work, but more than likely had to change jobs more than once. So of course they don’t treat the work place with the same respect their parents did – they know all too well that they are commodities, and they’ve seen the lack of respect granted their parents by employers.
The truth is that the work place is changing forever, in fundamental and profound and unpredictable ways. This transformation will make the industrial revolution seem like child’s play. All of the current forms of the employer-employee relationship will be affected, from where the employer works to how health care is funded to how the employee is compensated, etc., etc.
The transformation is going to be difficult and painful and unprecedented, but the nature of the conflict between youth and experience will always remain. We among the experienced laugh at how little the youthful know and their naïve idealism, while they see bitter and jaded cynics who view the world through cynical and narrow lenses.
I’d strongly suggest that Mr. Sinek and Mike Rowe, and all of the other social critics out there who are piling on the Millennials take a moment or two and read Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman. You’ll find that Willy and Biff Loman are dealing with the exact same issues parents and young adults have always grappled with: change, disillusion, shattered and false dreams and expectations.
I’ve seen hundreds of Wily Lomans out there. I’ve been Willy Loman. Who is Willy Loman? He’s every hard working guy who’s put in 50, 60, 70 hours a week to please his managers only to be replaced by a foreigner or a machine that will do the same work for a fraction of the expense. He’s every guy who’s filled his children with their own failed impossible dreams – the same guy who yells at the umpires in little league games or signs his kid up for the year-long travelling baseball or basketball team and spends the rest of the year driving around the country. He’s every guy who’s bought into the false American dream of position and conformity and materialism, who’s worked tirelessly for the corner office and the house in the suburbs and the S.U.V in the driveway, only to end up in the trash can with the rest of the burned out and discarded human waste that the corporate world chews up and spits out every single day.
In Death of a Salesman, Biff Loman is guilty of all the offenses Mr. Sinek charges the Millennials with, but some sixty years prior. Arthur Miller was a brilliant artist, but he wasn’t Nostradamus. He was writing about what he saw, the truth, and it was just as true in 1949 as it is now – the conflict between fading and emerging generations has always played itself out against a backdrop of change, and has always been the conflict between idealism and cynicism, between youth and experience.
It’s time we the older generation step aside and let the young ‘uns figure things out. After all, here about three weeks before President Trump takes office, do we really think they could do any worse?