Dear GenZ: Millennials Are Not Your Enemy. And Vice Versa.
I read a Buzzfeed article recently regarding the “dragging” of Millennials by GenZ on the popular app TikTok. This was to be shortly followed by a Guardian article on much the same topic. Both raised some interesting points about character quirks of my generation that I thought had reasonable merit and required addressing. Why do we still think knowing what a VHS is, or liking Harry Potter, is a cornerstone personality trait?
Fundamentally, I enjoy Buzzfeed- why else would I be reading an article critical of my generation? As a hetero, white male, I often delve into their list articles aimed at the ridiculousness of straight culture, and laugh out loud at curations of “20 Times Women Eviscerated Men on Twitter This Week.” Frankly, humor is often an opportunity for many to do some honest introspection about their own idiosyncrasies.
Something struck me differently though about GenZ putting Millennials on notice, as it were. I had a hard time laughing at this one. Not because I did not think it was pointed and all too often accurate- but because it felt like a tired pile on. Millennials have been told since we came of age what a horrible, lazy, self-centered, snowflake generation we are. It has been written into the fiber of our culture. Many of us carry that chip on our shoulder and work twice as hard every day to escape that reputation.
For a while, however, that felt like a single front battle. We had to convince the parents of our generation, the also oft-maligned Boomers, that we were not as vapid and shallow as we had been made out to be. Suddenly, however, there is a growing animus between ourselves and the younger generation coming up behind us. I am not sure where exactly this increasingly toxic rivalry began, but I have a few theories.
Now, I can remember being in my early and mid twenties and listening to people in their mid thirties talk down to me because I “just didn’t have enough experience yet to understand the world.” That sort of talk is profoundly patronizing, and it absolutely pains me to see people of my own generation propagating it against Zoomers. First, you have no idea what life experience an individual has accumulated, so far be it from you to impart wisdom on someone who, for all intents and purposes, could be your life experience superior. Second, what the hell magical knowledge do we suddenly get at thirty that we think we know better the ways of the world? When I turned 30, I distinctly remember thinking, “Wait, this is it? I’m still totally clueless? Damn.”
And my generation has certainly been critical of the cultures and norms growing within GenZ. To be fair, Zoomers did it to themselves a few times, and they should be eternally grateful they’re not called the TidePod Generation. However, it is stunning to me how much malice grows out of an older generation when they observe a younger generation doing something new. TikTok, where this whole conversation began, is a great example. Millennials point it and go, “What is this strange, colorful, self-centered nonsense of music and individual promotion?!” Clearly none of those Millennials ever had a MySpace page. Music gets dragged as well. But can anyone really look you in the eye and say the height of musical accomplishment is the Millennial anthem “Bye, Bye, Bye”?
The simple fact is, things change, and change is uncomfortable. No one likes seeing the things they enjoy erode in the face of new fashions and new cultural trends. As human beings we crave warm comfort and familiarity. There’s an inherent suspicion to the new and different. I would argue that instead we should approach such things with an air of fascination, but that is a different conversation.
At the heart of this rotten generational fruit, however, seems to be something more sinister. If it were just the ancient war of Millennials vs Boomers, generational divide could be dismissed as a one off, an aberration. With the growing awareness that there is apparently genuine dislike between Millennials and GenerationZ, however, we are forced to recognize a perhaps more ominous reality: the cultural drive for division strictly for division sake.
There are no shortage of “camps” to belong to. Republican Camp. Democratic Camp. Star Wars Camp. Star Trek Camp. We find more and more ways to self-divide with every passing year. Part of this is a natural extension of human evolution in that we are only just slightly removed (evolutionarily speaking) from our tribal root ancestors. At least in the United States, it seems, I think this has taken on a darker and more purposeful face.
For reasons I do not quite understand, there is still an underlying current of an ‘Us vs Them’ mentality that permeates so much of American culture. We seem to require an enemy in order to justify our own ways. And that trickles all the way down to how the different generations are interacting right now. Millennials will happily tell you about all the terrible, malignant things the Boomers have done to the economy and planet that we are now cleaning up. Boomers will gladly reply that Millennials have broken how we interact by moving increasingly to an online society, and that our green initiatives are isolated in their scope of consideration, and do not address the challenges of smaller communities that cannot yet afford expensive shifts in paradigms. It is already established herein what the Zoomers think of us Millennials and vice versa. And so we dig into our individual positions, and stew on our dislike for one another.
Meanwhile, GenX is sitting in a booth watching this ugly bar fight break out and saying, ‘Yikes, don’t want any part of that.’ And if you are in GenX and this does not accurately capture your experience, I sincerely apologize: I literally know so little about your generational identity that I cannot glorify or impugn you. Sorry to leave you out of this. Legitmately.
It would be easy and trite to conclude this by saying we all likely share a lot more in common than we think. That all we need to do is stop being so afraid of the different and learn to embrace the unique and eclectic newness each generation brings forward. The thing is though: each generation will say that they are trying to do just that. That we are trying to embrace the other side, it is just that the other side does not seem to ‘get it.’
And that, more than anything, might be the problem. Our fundamental understanding of what compromise is, and our ability to embrace newness is not, ‘I must take five steps and the other person must take five steps and we meet in the middle.’ It is patently, ‘I am more right in this situation, so I will take a step forward, but the other person has to take the other nine steps.’ So what ends up happening is we each take one step, remaining eight steps apart, and point at the other side saying, ‘See! They still don’t get it! I did my part, but they did not meet me!’ When, in actuality, no one has really put any effort into moving forward.
Being a Millennial has always been tougher than many people give it credit for, I believe. Even apart from disliked by our partner generations, there are so many economic drawbacks to being my generation that a growing number in the scientific community say the psychological scars of will never really rectify. It was a little easier, though, when I thought all us youngsters were on the same side as one another. And there it just goes to show how much I myself have self sorted into a camp, and struggle to see things from the perspective of my own elders.
Maybe all that difficulty has turned the aging, bullied Millennial generation into the bullies themselves. Maybe after years of being told we are killing markets, too frivolous to ever grow ourselves economically, too entrenched in surface, online connection to ever really establish deeper human connections (never mind ALL of those accusations are taken completely out of cultural and economic context), that we have turned our ire on the younger generation behind us. And, predictably, that generation has decided they are not going to take it sitting down and are firing back. Nor should they take it sitting down. Then, nor should we be so harsh on those younger than us just because we feel those older have unfairly weighed and measured our own generation.
Here is really where I think I expected better of Millennials. For a generation that speaks so loudly of prizing acceptance and openness, I am a little stunned we have turned the vitriol that was aimed at us back at the younger generation. I will be the first to say I don’t think we had it coming when the older generations accused us of killing every single industry. So shouldn’t we have learned from that experience, and taken cautious, aware steps not to rain down on our younger counterparts? Since we did not- maybe we do have the current dragging coming. This one we brought on ourselves for not doing a better job of treating our younger peers with respect and curiosity, and instead scoffing at them for- what? being different?
The cycle has to break. The ‘Us vs Them’ mentality needs to be buried. Not for the sake of peace and harmony, but strictly because this level of angry discourse will absolutely be a barrier to greater cultural growth. GenerationZ, you are absolutely right: liking the Office is not a personality trait. To everyone: disliking your fellow generations should not be a personality trait either.