Millennial. Millennial. Mil-len-nial. Let it sit on your tongue. How does it taste?
Robert Sarver, owner of the NBA’s Phoenix Suns, likely doesn’t think it tastes very good. He thinks we (full disclosure time – I’m 24, which places me solidly in the millennial cohort) have a tough time handling tough times. In the midst of a Suns’ nine game losing streak and, perhaps not coincidentally, a career nadir for 26-year-old forward Markieff Morris, Sarver was quoted saying, “My whole view of the millennial culture is that they have a tough time dealing with setbacks, and Markieff Morris is the perfect example.”
The Suns’ owner actually had several things to say regarding Gen-Y, adding that “technology or the instant gratification of being online” might be to blame and that the leadership (AKA the Baby Boomers in the front office) needs to “provide a better culture that provides for more accountability and more motivation.” In other words, the adults in the room need to fix the environment because the players are too immature to be accountable and motivated on their own.
It seems like the term “millennial” has almost become a dirty word. We’re selfish, undignified, entitled, too plugged in. In my own experience, when someone invokes the title of my cohort, it’s rarely to sing our praises. More likely, we’re being berated for being born when we were into a world we didn’t make. We even do it to ourselves.
“As a millennial, or, rather, as part of the most narcissistic and entitled generation yet, I look at this overwhelming chaos as an opportunity to unite and recognize the responsibility we owe to our fellow humans, be it Syrian, Sudanese, Chinese, Mexican, or French.” This is an excerpt from Ana Yamel Rodriguez-Cuervo’s article on TribecaFilm.com in which she reacts to the film Children of Men. She worries that the world could be heading towards something similar to the grim reality presented in the flick. The Children of Men universe is one where women no longer bear children, governments collapse and dissolve with each passing day, and refugees are treated as a societal cancer. It would seem that Rodriguez-Cuervo believes the current circumstances regarding refugees are a sign of the end times and that it’s up to millennials to stop being so millennial-ish and save the day. If we are indeed the most narcissistic and entitled generation ever, I wouldn’t be very optimistic.
Are we really that bad, though? At the risk of sounding self-important and entitled and all the other things I’ve been accused of being, I don’t think we are. We might be, but I don’t think we are. To Mr. Sarver’s point, we did grow up in a world of technology and instant gratification. While the effects of this are admittedly up for discussion, I think it has been a good thing on the whole. Technology has allowed us to become the most educated generation ever, with access to more information and content than anyone ever could have imagined. I will consent that it’s up to us to make good on the unique position we find ourselves in. I’ll also consent that the demand for instant gratification can be aggravating, but the optimist in me thinks this can be spun in a positive light as well. Our need for satisfaction to come more quickly than previous generations has led us to innovate faster and achieve younger. It has made us hungrier and less willing to wait to eat.
Also to Mr. Sarver’s point, I agree that millennials have a tough time dealing with setbacks. However, I would argue that we have a tough time dealing with setbacks because setbacks are difficult and people in general, rather than specifically Gen-Y-ers, have difficulty with difficult things. Furthermore, saying we have a tough time getting through difficulty is dismissive of the difficulties we deal with. I know that he was speaking of a very specific situation and to project his quotes onto a broader scope is faulty logic, but I’m going to do it anyway for the sake of the point. Too often, one generation doesn’t identify with the problems of the generation that follows them. It’s the old, “back in my day, I walked to school barefoot in the snow uphill both ways” conundrum. All these whippersnappers have it so much easier, what with their internet gadgets and Xanax. But just because our problems are different doesn’t mean that we don’t have problems. I could talk in depth about these problems – the fact that we have a larger economic hill to climb than any generation before us, the increasing issues with climate change and the challenge of adapting for it, the new and unusual globalized warfare against faceless terrorist organizations – but I didn’t write this with the intention of whining.
I also don’t mean to claim these issues as exclusively our problems because that entirely misses the point I’m trying to make. These are everyone’s problems. Whether you’re 68 or 18, you live on this planet just like the next person and you have a set of challenges that the next person probably won’t completely understand. But if we can put aside the “us vs them” mentality that pervades a lot of the conversations about generational differences, maybe we can begin to appreciate and empathize with the challenges that aren’t our own rather than dismissing them. This is the vision I believe Ms. Rodriguez-Cuervo was alluding to with her “be it Syrian, Sudanese, Chinese, Mexican, or French” sentiment. I don’t think my millennialism gets in the way of understanding that.