Separating people of different ages into “generations” is something I have never really understood. Titles such as “Baby Boomer" or “Generations X and Y” have become common colloquialisms. These loaded terms are often relied on when praising, critiquing, or homogenizing lived experiences based on age. Ever since my introduction into student leadership I have heard many positive things about students within our communities; “generation of the future” is one common phrase in academic settings. I think it is true in temporal progression as well as in responsibility. But throughout dialogue about my “generation," one term (and its use) continues to trouble me: the dreaded “millennials."
The problem that I have with the word millennial is that it has a limiting stereotype. Older generations use the term as a weapon: something to disenfranchise and chastise us. They have loaded the term “millennial” with assumptions about laziness, over sensitivity, and technological addiction. They employ this term to suggest that all young people expect the road to be paved for them, unlike the baby-boomers who have been praised for something they believe we lack: hard work. The image of the millennial has come to be a lazy young person playing video games, chained to their cellphone, and living in their parents' basement.
I think the conversation about “millennials” needs to transform into a representative and diverse badge of honour. Something that we decide, and that we change the conversation about. To me, “millennial” means a new dimension of thinking and learning. It means technological innovation, connectivity, platforms for social movement and change. It symbolizes a broader understanding and acceptance of others. It signifies a willingness to change a history of homogeneous labeling and categorizations. “Millennial” is not totalizing. This title currently limits us. Why are we letting our generation be lumped into a word that does not serve us? While our generation is truly changing the way we perceive and understand the diverse experiences of humanity, why are we letting ourselves be categorized under such a limiting and damaging word?
My challenge is that if society is to continue to evolve we need to stop comparing ourselves to what was. What sets us apart from the baby boomers is that we are not baby boomers. And that is completely fine.
Millennials need to continue to question and challenge the work and the traditions of generations before us, and if these changes cause friction with the past? Good. Our ability to question, be critical, and be vulnerable, is something that we need to recognize as a strength we possess.
Let me be clear, our generation isn’t perfect. But where older generations see narcissism, artificiality, materialism, superficiality, and technological reliance, we see social media as our tool to connect, to redefine community, to redefine experience, to question and be critical, to become globalized, and to support each other.
Where older generations chastise our sensitivity, we should praise ourselves for calling attention to oppressive forces that are active but often ignored. We should celebrate our ability to show vulnerability. We should respect our resilience in unlearning traditional practices of being human that marginalize and oppress others and taint their experience of being human.
Where older generations see laziness, we see an appreciation of ones right to wander, not to settle, to choose happiness and choice over expectations and status quo.
Where older generations see selfies, we see… well actually selfies are relatively useless. But if altering your face to become a strawberry or a puppy is wrong, I don’t want to be right. And that is something I can live with.
So let’s dismantle the negatively packed term “millennial”. For a generation who pushes back on almost everything, we should not shy away from pushing back on a term that seeks to limit us.
I am a millennial and I reserve the right to question, to be vulnerable, to be exactly what I want exactly when I want it. And I welcome people of all generations to do the same.