The guy was on a roll. If you had given him a microphone and a spotlight he would have looked like he was in the middle of a stand-up comedy routine at a nightclub in Los Angeles or New York City. In reality, he was holding court with a couple of his work friends in a suburban Philadelphia diner.
I tried to mind my own business, but he was brash and loud. He was in the middle of a diatribe on how today’s youth are as valuable as an attic full of stuffed Beanie Babies. In other words, they’re worthless. “Kids today have it made. They’re spoiled, they’re lazy, they don’t work, they expect handouts. They’re disrespectful and they all want a trophy just for showing up.”
He took glee in telling his friends how he mistreated a young millennial who had come to his office looking for help on a project. You’ve certainly seen or heard similar complaints from others or on social media. It seems there’s a meme every day, poking fun of Millennials, those born generally between 1981 and 1996, and Generation Z, those born after from the mid-1990s to the early 2000s.
The same ole song
I thought about the guy’s comments the rest of the day. I couldn’t get them out of my head, like I had heard his speech before. They were especially poignant with so many people praising or complaining, depending on your prerogative, about the Stoneman Douglas High School students who have campaigned for safer schools after the shooting at their school that killed 17 of their peers and injured 17 others.
I was filling my car up with gas later in the day and it hit me: I’m a member of Generation X, the generation born roughly from the early 1960s to late 1970s. It’s the same things the Baby Boomer generation used to say about us.
- “Generation Xers are disaffected.”
- “They’re directionless.”
- “They’re the me generation.”
- “Generation Xers are negative cynics.”
A different era?
If I had engaged with the loud guy in the restaurant, his friends, or even the meme posters, I’m sure they’d both tell me that times have changed; that the role of parents and families have decreased; Millennials and Generation Z spend more time in front of violent movies and video games, and that bullying or worse mass killings are a bigger problem now than compared to previous generations. They would talk about news stories about how kids today need safe zones and are snowflakes.
Each generation has it’s rebellions songs. Here’s a couple that come to mind:
In some ways, they may be right. Times have changed, but I’m reminded of something an older friend of mine likes to say: “People are people.”
He should know. He served two tours in Vietnam as a combat medic. He’s seen some of the worst that life has to offer. He’s pretty low key about his experience, but I asked him one weekend, if he got frustrated with the youth of today. He looked at me with a straight face and asked, “Why should I? Some people like to say how it was so much tougher in our day, or how kids have it easy today. What good does that do?”
He went on to tell me that when his draft card was pulled, he thought about trying to flee to Canada. “We were no angels. People forget that. Our parents talked about how we were a bunch of lazy hippies. I didn’t want to go off to Vietnam. No one wanted to be there, but I came to a conclusion: you have to be able to look yourself in the mirror. You do that today, tomorrow, the next day, 365 days a year, then you’re accomplishing something.”
His theory is that we’re all alike. Whether you were a kid in the 60s or even today; young or old; black, brown, white or any other skin color; we all have the same hopes and dreams. The situation turns kids into men. Not the other way around.
“People are people, there’s good, there’s bad, there’s lazy, there’s hard workers, all that matters is what you’re doing about it, yourself,” he said.
I’m taking my friend’s advice. Every generation seems to have issues with the generation before it and the one after it. I’m not saying that the millennials and the kids today don’t have a long way to go, but I refuse to see them through a biased, cockeyed, one-sided lens.