Last week, my husband and I had dinner with some friends. We ate fish tacos, caught up on each other’s lives and laughed until we couldn’t breathe.
Our friends are a lot younger than us. They are millennials – that group of people who are analyzed, written about, and talked about. And I realize that I need to speak up about something.
This conversation on millennials being lazy and disrespectful, lacking in everything from common sense to brain cells has to stop. It’s gone on too long and it damages all of us.
I like millennials. They are my kids and friends of my kids. They are my nieces and nephews. They are my cousin’s children. They are my colleagues and students. They are my friends. (To be honest, we probably have more friends who are millennials than we do friends our own age – so there could be something very, very wrong with us….but that’s another subject.)
Of course they drive me crazy at times. So do people who are my age.
Millennials have grown up in a rough world. A world that on the one hand tells them they can be anything and have it all, and on the other hand saddles them with school debt and confusion. They have watched those of us who are older use and abuse social media just as much as they use and abuse it. Civil discourse was disintegrating when they were little, and has all but disappeared.
We need to stop making millennials into a single story. Contrary to what the media and others have led us to believe, millennials are creative, donate goods and services, and are worried about the state of the world and how they can make a difference. They value family and will work to create community.
Here’s what I want to say to those of us who are reading the articles and shaking our heads in despair about the next generation:
- Shaking our heads at the ‘younger’ generation is an ‘old people’ activity. Don’t do it. They need us and we need them. It’s called the “Circle of Life.” Go see Lion King – then let’s talk.
- It’s okay to disagree, but in our disagreement we need to be careful that we don’t dismiss people. There is inherent value in every human being, even when we disagree with them.
- Make friends with millennials – like real friends. Have people over for dinner, learn to laugh and talk with them. Relationship changes everything.
- Remember when you get really angry and want to lash out at someone who is younger – they are someone else’s son or daughter. The person who serves you coffee has a mom – and almost assuredly that mom loves them deeply and worries that people like you and I will treat them with contempt.
- Do what you can to make the life of a millennial a bit easier – that may be giving them an unexpectedly big tip, it may mean encouraging them to leave a job, or stay at a job. It may mean sending them money – just because you know they have college debt that will last ‘to infinity and beyond.’
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help from someone who is younger than you are. Most probably, the millennials in your life are tech savvy and can teach you things that will make your life so much easier. Let them teach you. You will both benefit.
- For decades, older people have used the words “Well, when I was young….!” The problem is, it usually prefaces a comment that says we are superior. That is not an effective way to build bridges with people who are younger.
- Enjoy millennials – don’t let labels get in the way of enjoying the stories and lives of those in your life.
Now here are my words to the millennials in the room.
- You are a targeted generation – people want to look and point and make assumptions. Don’t let the Debbie Downers steal your spirit. It’s easy for the nay sayers in the world to have the loudest voices. Don’t let them.
- Find ways to work around the system. Do not let rules prevent you from doing something that you know will work and work well.
- Be nice to the mean people.
- Work to defeat ageism. Don’t dismiss those who are older just because they may dismiss you. We need each other. I’ll say what I said to the non millennials: It’s okay to disagree, but don’t dismiss.
- Find your community but also make friends with people who are completely different then you in looks, beliefs, and values.
- You are the multitasking generation. So go on Facebook, go on Twitter…just don’t stay there. Your communication on social media is not a good substitute for the real thing.
- The grey buildings where you may begin your jobs will make you color blind. Don’t let it happen! Keep on seeing the color in your world.
- Remember to always operate by this question: “Who do I want to like me when I am 80?” It is an excellent life guide.
- You are the Harry Potter generation. You know what Dementors are and you know what the Dementor’s Kiss does. Don’t let the world’s Dementors steal your heart and soul. Guard both of them.
- Take care of your eyes and your soul. You’ll want them both to last until the end of your days.
This post is dedicated to some of my favorite millennials: My children, my nieces and nephews, Caitlin, Mary, Tayo, Ashley, Amanda, Amel, Caroline, Mason, Lara, Eric, Tina, Erik, and so many more – you know who you are!