Talking about my generation
I had it all planned out.
This being the Christmas issue, I was going to tell you all about the winter that my best friend spent selling North Carolina-grown Christmas trees on a street corner on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.
I already knew the story in broad strokes — how he and his girlfriend alternated shifts with the stand that they needed to guard around the clock, taking breaks at her parents house to sleep and shower, beginning as stores opened for Black Friday and ending as Santa struggled to fit down your chimney. I figured a relatively quick phone call with him would be enough to elicit a story or two to invoke the appropriate amounts of holiday cheer and an anecdote or two to provide an insightful glimpse into his all-encompassing seasonal job.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about the holidays though, it’s that nothing will go quite as anticipated, whether it’s an unfulfilled dream of a white Christmas, a snarl of traffic or a flare-up between relatives. In this case, a tight work week and scheduling conflicts impeded the timely column.
Instead, a rambling article my dad sent me about the shortcomings of my generation popped a squat in the forefront of my cranium and has been taking up residency there since midweek. It posited the same arguments everyone else seems intent on leveling at my generation — we’re spoiled, lack a strong work ethic and are generally a lost, vapid demographic.
“I’d be interested in what you think about this,” my dad wrote in his e-mail. “I think they may have an interesting point that people in Generation Y expect to have fulfilling careers and do well financially. I don’t know about all the entitlement stuff. Do you think this is accurate?” I thought about my friend trying to stay warm in the thin winter air, doing his best to stay awake while protecting the tree stand.
I quickly fired back an e-mail to my dad, blaming a cutthroat economic system for aimlessness and alienation, blaming his generation for tanking the economy and living beyond its means, rambling off stats about the minimum wage and growing income inequality and generally indicting his generation.
Who created the high unemployment rate, who ran up the national deficit and who sold sub-prime mortgages? The throwback Shaggy song that someone in my generation played on the bar jukebox last night said it all: “Wasn’t me.”
But seriously, what were you doing while the United States backed dictators and funded the Contras in Central America? What were you saying about the anti-apartheid movement at the time, or what makes you think that shifting the blame to a younger generation gets you off the hook for social engagement?
Yes, I’m easily frustrated by how disengaged lots of my peers are. But how can materialism, individualism or get-rich-quick mentalities be placed at our feet? You’re right, some of us do want it all. Is our desire for a better life truly selfindulgent, or does it sting because it reminds you of how you gave up the dream?
I didn’t say all of that to my dad, because my frustration was aimed at the author and other people making similar arguments. I ended my unexpectedly lengthy response by summing up my point in a sentence: Older generations should look in the mirror.
After my initial anger subsided, I thought more about how other groups of people are used as scapegoats through similar logic that claims poverty is a choice. I realized I might be too quickly shifting the blame as well. My grandparents’ generation probably said similar things about the generation before me, and it’s possible I may catch myself uttering generalizations about younger people in a decade or two.
With the new year in striking distance and many people considering their resolutions, maybe we should all try to avoid too much navelgazing and attempt to focus outward. If aspects of my generation irk you, what can you do to change the culture and society that we’re reflecting? How can we all be less quick to condemn and take more time to listen?
Is there a cause or idea that we can commit ourselves to around the clock, like my friends on a New York street corner? Can we make the holiday spirit last more than a season, or will we find ourselves in an identical or deteriorated position next year?
Many people in my generation dare to pursue those dreams. We are inspired by the best legacies of your generations, by the dignity of your struggles both momentary and grand. When the example is lacking, we will try to draw strength internally and from our peers, as we make the path by walking. We’ll need your generations there beside us. !