Has anyone ever tried stuffing you into a box before your time. Probably. Usually it’s the people with the greatest latitude themselves that attempt to limit yours. Somehow your freedom threatens them. Why? There may be more than one reason, but I think that the most likely is exploitation. If you think that word too strong, you’re probably not a millennial. Millennials seem to be more defiant than older generations. Furthermore, they have not yet grown to feel that exploiting others is a legitimate thing to do. The older generations despise the millennials for doing and thinking differently than they. It’s a little harder to exploit someone who thinks for him-or-herself. Millennials are criticized for how they don’t rush into the cattle chutes that the older generations have built for them. And that’s disconcerting to the oldies because, damn it, those chutes and corrals took years and millions of dollars to build. “What’s the matter with these young people? Don’t they appreciate the confines that we have built for them?”
No, they don’t, and criticising them for it isn’t likely going to change their minds. I can hear the howl ascending already as oldies begin chanting their mantra of objections: millennials are lazy, they are loose with money, they don’t prioritize properly, they don’t respect authority, they are leaches, they, they, they… Pearl S. Buck (1892-1973) said that, “The young do not know enough to be prudent, and therefore they attempt the impossible – and achieve it, generation after generation.” She was a golden oldie who insightfully recognized that the attributes of the young, while often annoying to older generations, are actually our greatest resource.
So what makes millennials different than previous generations when they were young and imprudent themselves? I don’t think that they are vastly different, but there are vast differences in the environment and those are bound to induce vastly different responses. It’s inevitable and it’s going to be beautiful. Their access to information and technology is unlike anything the world has ever seen. They are technological natives. Their approach to problem solving is going to be different and it’s going to leave oldies scratching their heads. Rather than exploiting them because that’s the way it’s always been done, embrace new ways of enlisting them. Millennials are more likely to be inspired by collaborative frameworks without hierarchy. It makes oldies look like scared little bullies when they criticize the work ethic of a millennial when the oldie doesn’t even know how to rotate a PDF.
Embrace new models of leadership. Oldies label millennial values as “having too many chiefs and not enough Indians.” In other words, millennials should fall into rank and file and take orders from the boss sitting atop the pyramid. This is an antiquated view of leadership and it will never answer the needs of the twenty-first century and beyond. The problems that we face today (and in the future) are so complex and far reaching that everyone involved can be a leader, and more than that, we actually need them to be. Some people are so steeped in their traditions that they will never comprehend this new model. They will continue to wonder why, after all of their years of work to reach the top of the heap, the young people flee.
Old Mother Francis would tell stories and reminisce about the pioneer days in Short Creek, Arizona. She lived in a tent with dirt floors and no plumbing or electricity. They would carry water in jugs and take their dumps in a hole in the dirt. Covering the hole with a cranny was a welcomed improvement. I can still hear her say, “They call them the good ole days, but I don’t know what was so good about them.” She was so frail that her voice quaked and I was young, but it made a lasting impression on me. It is a bright new world that we live in. I have nothing but hope and anticipation for millennials and those generations rising up after them. To quote my favorite line from Emma by Jane Austen, “The truest friend does not doubt, but hope.” Millennials will continue to revolt and I encourage them to do so. Replace that old cranny with something undreamt of. Establish peace in the world. You can do it and I believe in you.
Open Graph image taken from here