This summer I caught up with an old friend from college by phone. We hadn’t been in touch since the 1990’s, so had a lot to talk about it. We got into politics, of course, and he mentioned that “our turn” – that is, Generation X’s – is coming up, as the Baby Boomers are reaching the end of their run.
That’s true. Gen Xers are increasingly in positions of leadership in business and government, and in art and culture we took the reins long ago. This is probably the last or second-to-last presidential election that will be contested exclusively among Boomers. Especially given this year’s candidates, I believe I can speak for much of Generation X when I say, “It’s about time!”
About time that the Boomers get out of the way, that is. But not necessarily for Gen X to step up. As I have reflected on my conversation with my college buddy over the last few months, I have come to believe that even though we have the right of way, so to speak, that we should yield and hand the torch directly to the Millennials instead.
Previous generations have made quite a mess of the world, to put it mildly, and the multiple crises that we face today threaten all life on earth. Nuclear radiation, pesticides, deforestation, water and air pollution, all produced for the purpose of profit: these are the legacies of the “Greatest Generation” and the Boomers. Not only is there no chance that the Millennials will “do as well” as their parents economically, it is plausible that they won’t live lives that are as long either. Climate Change might already be on a runaway track, with lethal conditions inevitable in the near future. Things are looking grim.
I see this situation and look at my generation, and it strikes to me that we are not up for the task. Enough of us benefited from the status quo that there is no collective desire to change it. We just want to tinker with the tuning and ignore the engine. We lack imagination, inspiration and idealism. We are already done trying.
We are also behind the times. We needed to be convinced that gays weren’t perverts, that blacks weren’t crooks and that women were fully human. The Millennials grew up in a different world. Sexuality, race and gender that isn’t hetero, white and male is no big deal to them. There’s nothing scandalous about a mixed race couple of whatever orientation.
“56% of millennials in their late teens and 20s said they had no problem with same-sex relationships. Only 26% of Gen Xers felt the same way when they were that age, as did a mere 21% of baby boomers” (Changes in American Adults’ Sexual Behavior and Attitudes, 1972–2012)
Politically, the massive support for Bernie Sanders among Millennials was a bright sign, even given his limitations (namely, his refusal to address imperialism and the military industrial complex). The Millennials don’t have much interest in Hillary or Trump. In fact, according to a poll just released by UMass Lowell, “nearly a quarter of Americans ages 18 to 35 would rather see a giant meteor strike the Earth than see either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the White House.”
Frankly, that settles it for me! That’s some clear vision compared to the myopia of my Generation X.
Unconvinced? Here’s some details about the Millennials (sources listed at end of article):
Best educated generation in US history
Only 1/4 are married; 44% say that marriage is becoming obsolete
More tolerant of races and groups than older generations (47% vs. 19%)
Views of media growing more negative
61% “worried about the state of the world and feel personally responsible to make a difference”
92% “believe that business success should be measured by more than just profit”
83% “agreed with the statement, ‘there is too much power concentrated in the hands of a few big companies,’” which is higher than all other generations
64% “would rather make $40,000 a year at a job they love than $100,000 a year at a job they think is boring”
88% “prefer a collaborative work culture rather than a competitive one”
These are helpful characteristics and admirable traits for the challenges that face us. By 2020, Millennials will make up 40% of the electorate so we could be in for a big shake-up. I for one would welcome that!
Of course, some people will insist that the Millennials aren’t ready for leadership, that they are too young. My counter to that is simple: Letting the geezers run things certainly hasn’t been working out too well, has it? And we Gen Xers are already over-the-hill. Old dogs can’t learn new tricks, and it’s new tricks that we desperately need now.
A Millennial that I met recently asked me if I thought it’s true that people get more conservative as they age.
I asked, “You mean like that old cliche, ‘Whoever isn’t liberal in their youth has no heart, but who isn’t conservative in their old age has no head?’”
“Yes, in this culture I think that’s usually true. But it doesn’t have to be. I myself am getting more radical with age. Your generation can break that cycle.”
She smiled, pleased at the encouragement. I was so glad I got to deliver that message.
It is true that Millennials have higher rates of depression than preceding generations. But does that have to be viewed as negative? Don’t they have more to be depressed about, after all? Perhaps they are simply less in denial. If so, and even if this sensitivity is not fully conscious, isn’t less denial essential if we are going to make the changes that need to be made in the world?
Basically, it boils down to this for me: the Millennials will be bearing the brunt of the shitstorm that the Greatest/Boomers manufactured and the Xers insist on maintaining. Let’s not make them wait to defend themselves and this beautiful planet we live on. This is our chance, fellow Gen Xers, to show that we aren’t a bunch of selfish pricks like our parents and grandparents. This could be our legacy: that we made the best choice we could by just getting out of the way.
Are you up for it? I am. Consider this my announcement that I would rather put my skills to use in a support role for the next generation than take charge as a member of my own. I really think they’ll do a better job than we can.
(I do have one request of the Millennials, though: Do you always have to put music on “shuffle”? Sometimes I want to listen to a whole “album”; you know, it’s a collection of music put together by a band that’s intended to be listened to in sequence from beginning to end? Aw, I guess college kids don’t listen to “Dark Side of the Moon” anymore, do they? Never mind.)
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Sources of Statistics:
22 Shocking Stats About Millennials to Help You Chart Tomorrow’s Change
11 Facts about the Millennial Generation
74 Of The Most Interesting Facts About Millennials
29 Surprising Facts That Explain Why Millennials See the World Differently
Amid The Stereotypes, Some Facts About Millennials
Millennials section at Pew Research Center website
The paradox of millennial sex: More casual hookups, fewer partners
Clinton Gaining Among Millennials, But Obstacles Remain