The word “Millennials” gets used a lot, and for good reason. The youngest adult generation recently surpassed Baby Boomers as the largest demographic of Americans, making them incredibly desirable in fields as diverse as advertising and politics. However, that desirability hasn’t insulated them from a host of criticisms. According to plenty of their elders, Millennials are entitled, lazy brats who don’t respect or care about anything, including their own country. There’s even some data to support these claims. Millennials are more likely than other generations to oppose cuts to entitlement systems like social security, more likely to describe the typical American as lazy, and less likely to say that seeing the American flag flying makes them feel good. One could be forgiven, after reading the storm of op-eds trashing them, for thinking that Millennials are, in the words of slam poet Taylor Mali “The Worst, period, generation, period, ever, period.”
But digging deeper, it’s not hard to discover that Millennials are far less dangerous than they are misunderstood. They might believe in entitlement programs, but they are more than willing to contribute their own resources for the good of others, and give to charity at the highest rate of any living generation. They might be criticized for their work ethic, but are just as willing to put in time as their predecessors. They might be less likely to feel good about the American flag, but they defend American values like freedom and equality more vigorously. Then there’s the Flynn Effect, which shows that IQ scores steadily increase over time, and implies that Millennials are, if not the smartest generation to reach adulthood, at least as intelligent as their predecessors.
This unwarranted dislike of Millennials isn’t unique to my generation. Baby Boomers, after all, were named the “me generation,” and even created of the “me decade,” but they also fought powerfully on the front lines of the Civil Rights Movement. Generation X was termed “the first generation to do worse than its parents,” even as it revolutionized the world’s technology during the 90s. Every generation was thought in turn to be the worst yet to arise, and every generation then went on to succeed, only to look at those coming after them and begin the process anew.
But maybe there’s something oddly comforting in this realization. The world has gotten consistently better after all, despite the reliably pessimistic outlook of older generations on the younger. Perhaps it’s simply part of our nature to be concerned, maybe without reason, about the quality of the people we’re leaving the future to. Perhaps when our species claims that the end is near, it says less about the world than it does about us. And perhaps realizing this can prompt us to start looking inward instead of outward, to ask not what she should fix in other people to make the world a better place, but rather what about ourselves should change.