Millennial

The Generation of Empathy

The generation known as “Millennials” (also known as Generation Y) get a bad rap from older generations. They are often described as whiny and entitled with no understanding of or ability to handle the “real world.” Boomers and Gen X-ers alike make fun of them for being politically correct, for using trigger warnings and establishing safe spaces. They claim Millennials need to toughen up, grow up, and work harder. The fact is that their reality is far different from that of Millennials and there are a multitude of misconceptions and misunderstandings when it comes to the Millennial generation. The unique strengths, circumstances, and experiences of Millennials are seldom discussed and this negativity towards the generation has led to most Millennials distancing themselves from the moniker. No wonder with articles like “The Me Me Me Generation” published in Time Magazine in 2013 stating, “They are the most threatening and exciting generation since the baby boomers.” This type of bias against the generation creates a hostile climate for them that is largely undeserved.

It is a common misconception is that Millennials are children or college students. There are no firm dates that define the beginning and end of the generation but most experts place the generation beginning between 1977 and 1982, and ending between 1994 and 1997. These dates mean that Millennials are between the ages of 21 and 41. By the year 2020 Millennials will make up more than half of the workforce. Millennials are factually the most educated and culturally diverse generation in United States history.

Members of the Millennial generation were young at the time of the 9/11 attacks and have spent their entire adolescence and adulthood in a post 9/11 world. They have not seen the US at peace in 17 years. They endured the Great Recession and have suffered greatly because of it. Millennials face lower wages, higher cost of living, and higher student loan debt. Many live with their parents and delay home buying and starting a family due to difficulty supporting themselves in the current economy.

One of the most noted traits common among Millennials is that they are incredibly “civic minded.” They are often heavily involved in politics, and tend to be socially liberal. There are a long list of experiences that are unique to Millennials that might explain this. Consider the fact that Millennials have grown up surrounded by media. They are the first generation to have hundreds of channels of television. Internet access connected them with every other culture and people with very different ideas and lifestyles from what they may have been surrounded by at home. Being constantly immersed in story changes the way people view the world. As a child our Disney movies showed us that good overcomes evil, that the underdog is usually right, that persecuting people for being different than you is wrong, and that if we just fight against the bad guy we will find a way. Later we got this from our TV series, books, Movies and communications online via Facebook, Tumblr, Reddit, and more. A 2014 study proved that story consumption does change children’s perspectives. Italian psychologist Loris Vezzali published his study "The Greatest Magic of Harry Potter: Reducing Prejudice” in the Journal of Applied Psychology. His findings support his hypothesis that reading about fictional characters who show empathy for marginalized groups helps children become more empathetic in real life. Bernie Sanders called Millennials “the least prejudiced generation in the history of the United States.”

Millennials have grown up in a world fraught with injustice and tragedies, and because of the aforementioned empathy and social concerns, this really pisses them off. They were children or teenagers when Columbine occurred, and have borne witness to mass shooting after mass shooting over the years. They have also witnessed the distinct lack of preventative action by those in positions of authority. Millennials have seen the twin towers fall and our country send soldiers off to die in a war, while the purpose for this war has been murky from the beginning. Millennials witnessed America elect the first black president twice, and then spend eight years dissecting his character at every opportunity. They watched (many in abject horror) as Bernie Sanders, a man who valued almost all of the things Millennials generally value, lost the Democratic Primary and then as Donald Trump, a man who represents the opposite of what most Millennials value, was elected president. Millennials have watched as the police repeatedly kill young black men, and then denounce the community for protesting the violence and death. They were sold the dream that if they worked hard and went to college they could live a life of prosperity and comfort, only to graduate and find that there were no jobs for them. Many grads landed in low wage jobs, just to pay their student loan debt and feed themselves. They experienced all of this without the memories of happier times that belong to Generation X and the Baby Boomers. When people say “Make America Great Again,” Millennials wonder when it was ever great. From what they understand about history, it has never been a place that was unilaterally fair and just for everyone. Making it so is their dream. Make America great, finally.

Over the next ten to twenty years we will see a shift socially and politically as the Boomers retire and the Millennials take office. It is not outside the realm of possibility that Americans will experience the national legalization of marijuana, an increase in democratic socialist programs such as welfare, social security, and medicaid, and possibly even universal health care. One could make the assumption that our current strained political system is the last dying breaths of an era in United States history that has been unfair to minorities, alternative orientations and gender identities, women, and the disabled. It is advisable that Boomers and Gen X-ers remember that Millennials will be in charge of the healthcare system that pays for their rest homes one day. It would do everyone well to consider the experience of the Millennial generation and how it differs from their own. Seek first to understand.