Have you heard? According to countless think pieces, the millennial generation will be the downfall of America.
‘Millennials are lazy, entitled narcissists who still live with their parents.’
The New Yorker summarized this common view of the millennial:
‘…a twitchy and phone-addicted pest who eats away at beloved American institutions the way boll weevils feed on crops.’
— The Independent (@Independent) February 20, 2018
Some say Millennials are obsessed with image. They are selfish. They get their self-esteem from social media. They lack basic skills like boiling water or sewing on a button. They are sexting and snapchatting, fanatically following celebrities. They refuse to get normal jobs and expect the world handed to them on a silver platter.
It’s always tempting to think the newest generation is shockingly inept. But it’s a refrain we’ve been hearing for literally thousands of years.
‘The children now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.’
The above quote wouldn’t be out of place in a New York Times trend piece about millennials. It’s actually attributed to Socrates, and is from the 400’s BCE.
Plato complained (around the same time):
‘What is happening to our young people? They disrespect their elders, they disobey their parents. They ignore the law. They riot in the streets inflamed with wild notions. Their morals are decaying. What is to become of them?’
This one is from around 900 BCE:
‘I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words… When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint.’
If you take into consideration the storied history of worrying about youths, the most recent obsession with pinning the blame for society’s ills on the millennial generation is not at all surprising. Nor is the fact that this attitude is used to invalidate the opinions and activism of younger people.
We like to look back on the civil rights movement of the 1960s with rose colored glasses. Brave students led the push for equal rights, but were supported in the background by society, right? Not at all.
In 1961, only twenty-two percent of adults approved of the “Freedom Riders” (who went to the south to help ensure that black people were allowed to vote). And only twenty-eight percent of adults thought that non-violent demonstrations by African Americans would actually help achieve integration.
Even the idea of the famous March on Washington (planned and led by Martin Luther King, Jr.) was extremely unpopular, with only twenty-three percent of adults in the U.S. supporting it.
One of the most prominent attacks towards the students that survived the Parkland, Florida massacre is that their activism is less important because they are young:
Parents, what would you do if your child lectured and ridiculed a U.S. Senator on national television?
— toddstarnes (@toddstarnes) February 22, 2018
— CJ Pearson (@thecjpearson) February 22, 2018
— Serena S. ?? CNN is the devil (@hredriders) February 22, 2018
Worst news since their parents told them to get summer jobs https://t.co/Vg3mXYvb4c
— Dinesh D'Souza (@DineshDSouza) February 20, 2018
But those with actual experience of this generation are pushing back. Bill McRaven is a retired admiral with the U.S. Navy who served at the highest levels of the military. He also oversaw Special Operations Command, putting him in direct contact with young recruits.
In a Twitter post today, he spoke out in defense of millennials, saying:
‘People are often surprised when I tell them that I am a huge fan of the youth of America. But, I have witnessed the Millennials in action on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan.’
He highlighted the attributes of millennials:
‘…their personal courage, their perseverance, and their sense of fellowship for one another.’
This veteran saw a commonality between his soldiers and the students that survived Parkland:
‘When the classroom became a battlefield, these young Americans seemed to rise to even greater heights; sacrificing their lives for their fellow students, consoling the families of the fallen, inspiring a community to action.’
He voiced his full support of these students’ activism:
‘As I watch the student marches… I could not be prouder of them! This is exactly what we need the youth of America to do.’
The full tweet:
Twitter echoed this support:
The GOP leadership failed -but I give these students an A –
for turning the hurt & the pain into ACTION for a change -for a better tomorrow for all of us!
— Amriana (@amriana) February 22, 2018
Couldn’t agree more. Spending time with my son’s friends from @NavalAcademy and my daughter’s from @Middlebury & witnessing the courage of these extraordinary young people from Florida gives me great hope for our future.
— Simon Clark (@SimonLondonVC) February 22, 2018
Featured image: RHONA WISE/AFP/Getty