Who's responsible for inter-generational understanding?
Recently I gave a talk at my local Rotary club that focused on a chapter of my book, We're All Okay: A Millennial's Treatise. I was very warmly welcomed by the group, and the discussion was lively. Among the great questions asked was one I'd not heard before. A self-identified Baby Boomer acknowledged the understanding gap that existed between Millennials and older generations, and he asked who bore the responsibility for not having been more understanding in the first place.
In my opinion, mutual understanding is a two-way street, and the problem of older generations vilifying younger ones is as old as Socrates, who I quote in my book: "The youth love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority." I think the reason the Millennial generation's critiques have escalated to the extreme is a result of our culture today.
It's not easy to sit down and allow someone to challenge what you already know to be true. It's much easier and more comfortable to believe what you believe and let it be. We also live in a world where media can be tailored to reinforce what you already feel is correct. Depending on which channel you watch you can view coverage of the same event and see two very different descriptions. Millennial coverage is similar.
In addition, social media has become an echo chamber where people's thoughts, regardless of their veracity, can become repeated endlessly, memetically transmitted to those around us. The more extreme the view, the more popular it seems to become. We can so easily mute someone who espouses something we don't subscribe to, so we do our own filtering. We don't often challenge ourselves.
Where Millennials need to step up is in how we are responding to the conversation. One of the statistics I cited in my book is how my generation is more likely than any other to identify as a different generation, and even participate in the negative talk about ourselves. At the end of the day, we're just as average as any other group. There are exceptional people among us as well as ordinary ones and unremarkable ones. We can't allow everyone else to control the narrative for us. That's why I wrote my book in the first place - no other Millennial had yet written one.
We need to learn from this and try to control ourselves, all of us, when we start to evaluate Generation Z. Maybe we can break the fruitless cycle and just start seeing each other as different, but not necessarily scary.
If you'd like to see more of my talk, click here!