Platts: The damage of generalizing
No matter what side of the equation you’re on this election season, it’s blatantly clear that our level of discourse amongst each other has become shortsighted, generalized and often offensive. The closer we get to Nov. 8, the more this is evident nationally, regionally and even locally.
When I started writing this weekly column three years ago, I did it to showcase and profile millennials in this community and beyond. I was tired of the attacks and “studies” coming out that grouped us all together. There was, and still is, this sense that we are a cookie cutter group — all with the same character, the same worth ethic, the same goals and the same dreams. We’re not. In fact, the only thing we all actually have in common is that we were born between 1980 and 2000.
Over the years, I’ve worked to give millennials a voice. This column has highlighted successful young people like Duncan Clauss, the owner of Aspen Brewery, and Skippy Mesirow, a young leader and entrepreneur in our community who helped launch Aspen Next Gen Commission. I’ve written about young gallery owners, innovative farmers and dedicated ski instructors, each as passionate and hardworking as the next. I may just be a small, mountain-town columnist, but I figured by providing these stories I was doing my part to heighten the level of discourse about millennials.
That’s why I was surprised by the broad strokes that The Aspen Times columnist Glenn Beaton chose to paint over my age demographic in his column Oct. 16, “Millennials are wimps.” His prose tried to define my generation as weak, entitled and lazy through a bullet point list of insults. Now, everyone has the right to express his or her opinion. I appreciate hearing others’ perspectives because they help challenge and diversify my own beliefs. But blatantly shoving 75.4 million Americans into a small box is neither accurate nor fair. I can’t accept that generalization, nor do I think this type of rhetoric helps advance our society in any way.
Beaton believes that millennials are unlike previous generations. That we are different from those who survived the Great Depression and those that went on to create a thriving, middle-class based in manufacturing and physically “tough” labor.
He’s right. We are different. The wave of industrialization that brought the baby boomers their manufacturing jobs has evolved into a technological wave, making many of these “tough guy” skills less significant. Jobs that he and his cohorts used to have are now outsourced or largely non-existent. Because of this, we were raised to get straight A’s and go to college so we could have more opportunities related to our talents and our interests. That’s what we did. What have we ended up with? An unprecedented amount of debt and a truckload of unfair accusations from the older generation about how we work.
Before writing off the millennial generation, it’s important to understand the world we’re encountering.
First off, we have a higher unemployment rate compared with the national average. He said this is because we don’t work hard enough. Well, for starters, the competition is stiffer than it’s ever been. In part, because Baby Boomers are delaying retirement, making the workplace crowded and harder to get into. Around 44 percent of college graduates are employed in low-wage jobs that have little chance for upward mobility because that’s all we can find currently. That brings me to Beaton’s next list of qualms with us: We aren’t getting married, buying homes or popping out babies.
Perhaps it’s because we don’t have the money to do so yet? Maybe we’re being pragmatic by trying to pay off our student loans before we invest in an outdated religious ceremony, a permanent roof over our heads (which is nearly impossible for anyone in Aspen to pay for) or a plethora of expensive kids? Call this lazy and entitled, if you must. I’ll stick with saying this is practical and cognizant.
Another shot taken at millennials is that we prefer instant gratification instead of long-term rewards — an interesting accusation considering statistics show that we are the most educated generation in the history of this nation, and we invest more toward philanthropy than any age demographic that came before us. Education and philanthropic endeavors aren’t exactly what I would call “instant gratification” activities.
Yet another criticism that Beaton and others have of us is that we are lazy. Yet, a study by Project: Time Off, a national organization started by the U.S. Travel Association, actually blames millennials for changing workplace culture because we don’t take our paid vacation days. It states that we have created a “work martyrdom” environment, because we are always on and always connected — a result of our technologically connected world.
I could go on forever about the merits of my generation and why I think Beaton’s accusations are unfair. Unfortunately, I don’t have any more space in this column. So, I will end with a few questions for Beaton and others who agree with him: What do you hope to gain by insulting Generation Y in this manner? This is only separating our community further. How can we, instead, work to engage all parties in thoughtful dialogue about the generational differences and the challenges we face in moving our communities forward? I argue it starts with respectful communication aimed
at shrinking the generation gap.
The current rhetoric is just widening it, and helping none of us thrive in the process.
Barbara Platts appreciates the wide range of comments she has received from millennials on this topic. She hopes she represented them accurately in this column. Email her at email@example.com, or comment online, if you would like to continue the conversation.