Millennials Giving Back

As a generation we have a pretty bad rep. Whether it’s our parents, employers, or the news, we seem to have been labeled, judged, and receive regular shaming. While I acknowledge much of this judgement is accurate, I think it is much more a reflection on those who came before us than it is a reflection on us. It is our duty to use our circumspection and faults to give back more than we’ve received.

I didn’t choose to get participation trophies at the YMCA as a kid; expecting a seven year-old to refuse a trophy at the end of a season is ridiculous. Those trophies came about as a result of parents demanding that their child was special and so deserved a trophy no matter what. As a child, I, like many people I’ve talked to, knew that those trophies weren’t worth anything. I had two shelves for my trophies, one for the YMCA ones that didn’t matter (and even those I had arraigned to put the one or two trophies from “good” teams at the front), and one for the trophies from other sports leagues. This second shelf was much smaller, and its contents far more precious.

Our parents and our parents’ generations have let us down in many ways. Complaining about it won’t get us anywhere. Pointing it out is a decent step towards realizing what actually is the problem, but is likely to lead to much more awkward visits home that include far less congeniality.

The solution is something that many millennials have already taken to doing – making sure that what we do for a living reflects the values we hold as a generation. While this can mean a hippie approach to living which is unfeasible (or undesirable) for many people, it can also be done in almost any workplace through conscientious adherence to a set of values.

It’s a done deal for us millennials that people can be whatever gender they feel fits them most. It’s a no-brainer that people should be able to love whomever they love, people are people and love is what saved Harry Potter after all. Millennials are so cynical about institutions and the establishment that it sometimes hurts us, but often it just gives us a highly refined bullshit meter that lets us ignore the partisan hackery coming equally from Fox/Brietbart/Drudge as it does from MSNBC/HuffPo.

Millennials may be ignorant about many facets of world history, husbandry, home ec, or the energy industry. We do, however, know that war kills people and shouldn’t be a political tool used by political tools. We do know that large companies who pollute are failing to incorporate the externalities of their products, and that is wrong. We haven’t realized yet the tremendous cost of our haphazard destruction of the environment and workers rights because of companies like H&M and Forever 21 – we have yet to learn how to buy and repair quality goods. We can identify the damage and insidiousness of monopoly powers throughout American industries, even if we refuse to label companies like Amazon as such. Our disdain for wealthy liars and the lying politics they employ is massive.

We have not yet come into our own and demanded that the diversity and equality embedded in our values become a permanent part of the American experience. We will soon. Millennials are getting older and our startups are getting bigger. We are getting promotions and starting families, and we won’t make the same mistakes our parents did – we will make our own, new, and idiotic mistakes! We won’t settle for a status quo that gives so much to so few while leaving so many without a chance to succeed.

The one silver lining about the incoming Donald J. Trump administration came from my father. He said “It would be a shame if whoever comes after him just goes back to doing everything the same way we used to.” I agree. I am terrified of the things he will do and the damage that he will cause as our “precedent”. But I hold out hope that as we millennials grow up further and take the reins of power from our elders, we will forge a more inclusive, rigorously honest, and caring country. One that looks after its citizens instead of locking them up. One that refuses to let insurance companies determine healthcare policy and demands that all children have a chance to learn a profession and if needed, go to college.

I do not know what I want to “do” with my life. The idyllic notion of joining a company and staying with it for life and pension isn’t gone, but it does require sacrifices that many millennials are unwilling to make. If we want to live in a country that embodies our values, we need to be disciplined and over time demand that our governments, institutions, and workplaces reflect those values. The best way for us to give back and deserve the privilege we inherited as 21st century Americans is to demand through our jobs and social lives that our society leap forward to meet our challenges and take advantage of the technological paradise in which we live.

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