“Kids These Days”: How Criticism of Millennials Might Reshape Your Retirement

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The Call:

A few mornings ago I was listening to one of those entertainment talk radio shows that dominate the AM hours.  This was a Wednesday, when the program featured a special segment where hosts read aloud listeners’ email rants and then brought on air the rant’s author to explain their opinion/grievance/gripe/hot air or whatever they decided to spew forth into the world to help eradicate that whole “faith in humanity” problem that some people seem to have.

The point is to feature guests with unpopular opinions.  Listeners get pissed off and call in to speak their mind and sling a little mud.  It’s actually surprisingly civil.  The hosts screen the calls beforehand and they don’t connect callers directly with the curmudgeonly guest, allowing for mediation.  As soon as it gets to personal attacks, the hosts cut it off.

All in all, I believe the process of getting pissed off over the fact that someone has a different opinion is a pretty useless thing to do.  When I feel myself getting worked up, I cool down by putting things into perspective:  This is a total stranger on a silly radio show.  I will probably never meet them and their opinions will most likely never affect me.

This week’s guest was a fellow that loved to write into this particularly multi-cultured radio show to share his racism, homophobia, misogyny, and all kinds of other bile.  The hosts could never get this fine specimen of throwback intolerance to call in and defend his reprehensible opinions.

Until this particular Wednesday.

“Kids these days…” he started.

“Kids these days don’t want to work.”

“Kids these days are entitled.”

“Kids these days just want everything handed to them.“

“Kids these days are lazy.”

“Kids these days refuse to start at the bottom and work their way up.”

“Kids these days have parents that do everything for them and they can’t take care of themselves.” 

And so on and so forth.

Noteworthily, he ended with a mention that college grads should be willing to clean toilets and mop and that it angered him that they felt above such janitorial tasks.  

As I said, I try not to let the existence of people with different opinions get under my skin, especially people as petty and inconsequential as this man who makes time to write bigoted diatribes every week and send them to a local radio morning show.  But he still managed to really get to me.

Maybe it was the fact that I woke up at 6 am to run 5 miles that morning.  

Maybe it was the fact that I was on my way to work an 11-hour shift.

Maybe it was the fact that I deliver pizzas for a living.

Maybe it was the fact that I spent all of my years in public schools taking the most challenging classes available to me and working my ass off to make good grades.

Maybe it was the fact that I scored high enough on the SAT, achieved a 4.8 GPA, and volunteered for 75 hours to earn my full-ride scholarship for college.

Maybe it was the fact that throughout college (in addition to being a full-time student), I worked a part time job 25-30+ hours every week while also taking on unpaid internships.  This lazy bum right here pulled 60-hour weeks (this doesn’t include hours spent on homework and term papers) in order to get prepared for the “real world.”

Maybe it was the fact that I graduated college in the top 10% of my class.

Maybe it was the fact that after graduation employers told me that my college degree had no value and that I needed to work for them for free to gain experience before anyone would pay me.  

Maybe it was the fact that most friends my age worked just as hard because our parents told us that a college degree would open doors for us in life, and now our parents and people their age are telling us that we are entitled because we want jobs. 

Entitled.  For wanting jobs.  For wanting to work.  How the hell does that even make sense?

It could have been any of those things.  It was probably all of them.  That’s why this garbage pisses me off when it really shouldn’t.

You can criticize me in a lot of ways.

You can tell me that my optimism is naive.

You can tell me that my ambitions are silly.

You can tell me that I’m not unique, that there are thousands of others just like me.

You can tell me that I’m arrogant, that I’m not nearly as smart as I think I am.

You can tell me that my compassion isn’t practical and that someday I will outgrow it.  

I’ll take those criticisms, the same way that people my age have always taken criticisms from people your age.

But don’t call me lazy.  I’m too tired and cranky from my textbook not-lazy lifestyle to put up with that.

You know what I do for fun?  I run 26.2 miles.  Don’t lecture me about motivation.

Don’t call me entitled when my whole life I’ve been told that employers would value me once I earned my college degree.  If my parents had raised me to believe that four years of busting my butt to get a higher education would result in me mopping and cleaning toilets, I wouldn’t have bothered.

The Culprits:

People that criticize an entire chunk of our population based solely on the years in which they were born need to take a good hard look at themselves.  This gentleman that called into the radio show had previously refused to open his racism, misogyny, homophobia, bigotry, hatred, ignorance, intolerance up to criticism.  It wasn’t until he decided to tackle the issue of “Kids these days” that he felt safe enough to face listeners that might disagree with him.  Why is it more okay for you to hate people based on their age than based on their gender, race, or sexual preference?

As I said before, this segment in the morning show is very well-conducted and it stays surprisingly civil.  This man’s peers called in to (halfway) disagree with him:

“My kids aren’t like that.  I raised them right, but I still agree that lazy ‘Kids these days’ out there in droves.”

“I know a lot of people that don’t fit into that mold, but I still see where you’re coming from.”

“It’s not the whole generation, just the ones that weren’t raised right.”

Notice any pattern here?  People buy into this notion that “Kids these days” are going to be the downfall of our world, and yet the “Kids these days” that they actually know don’t fit the stereotype.  It’s anecdotal, I know, but isn’t exposure to people of different groups the best way to end bigotry?  How many intelligent, hard-working, motivated “Kids these days” do you have to personally know before you stop automatically looking down your nose at the ones that you’ve never met?

It’s so easy to fear the menacing, ambiguous “THEY,” but once you meet one of “THEM,” aren’t you supposed to be smart enough to recognize that lumping huge groups together based on superficial criteria results in a monumentally useless worldview?

The Conspiracy Theory:

Finally, let me posit my nifty conspiracy theory on this issue.

There are many people in our country that would love to curb entitlement spending, Social Security included.  Some of them have unfathomable resources and platforms in the channels that guide our public dialogue.

Isn’t there a possibility that they’re playing both of us?

They’re turning soon-retirees against the people that will continue paying into Social Security.

And the bigotry isn’t lost on younger workers:

“According to a Pew Research survey taken earlier this year, just 6% of Millennials say they expect to receive full Social Security benefits when they retire. Fully half say they expect to get  nothing at all.”

People my age are buying into the gloom and doom outlook that so many project for our country.  How long do you think we will stew on our cynical expectations for Social Security before we decide to just liquidate the whole trust to pay off some of that National Debt that we will inherit from our parents and grandparents?

Imagine a world in which those retirement benefits that you paid into your entire life were wiped out.  That’s the world that Millennials are imagining.  Why wait until we get screwed over?  Why not go ahead and cut the cord right now?

After all, it will only affect that generation that spits on us and calls us lazy as we toil to find our way in a world that tells us that we have no value.

The Answer:

I personally don’t believe in liquidating Social Security, but a demographic that is being constantly derided and held under thumb might find the notion pretty appealing.

Anyone that clicked through and read the Pew Research link knows that “Generational War” is fairly overstated and that the majority of Americans aren’t buying into it.  I’m merely pointing out the danger of a cultivated animosity between age demographics.

I believe that there does not exist a single challenge in the history of mankind that our country can’t overcome.  You can tell me that my optimism is naive.

Just remember that when you call me lazy, when you call people with similar experiences to me lazy with no supporting evidence other than our birthdate, you are raising your hand to be counted amongst the ignorant.  And you might just be kicking a hornet’s nest that is resting right next to your retirement.

Stop.

Instead let’s start a new group, one comprising of all ages:  Americans willing to work together to solve our nation’s problems and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity,  people old and young that believe in our collective ability to solve our problems and look out for each other.

No more “Kids these days” – only united Americans open-minded and militantly loyal to each other.

 

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The Opposite of Belonging: Finding My Place on the Political Spectrum

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After realizing that college was a bit more than just a place where people high five each other into instant friendship, I began to hatch a plan that would allow me to meet likeminded people who would undoubtedly lead me to the parties, underage drinking, and copious fornication that I knew were the true meaning of higher education.

Beyond joining my dorm community’s Area Council, I also scoured the list of student clubs to compile a list of leads.  Luckily, there was some stupid fee tacked onto our tuition that provided an enormous budget for student organizations.  Well luckily for me, seeing as how the lottery enthusiasts of Florida were paying for my tuition rather than me doing it myself.  This treasure trove of resources produced organizations ranging from College Republicans and Democrats to the Rock, Paper, Scissors club.  It was a lengthy list of student organizations, but I narrowed down my leads to several and began scratching my head as to how to become involved.

The first group that I visited was Students for a Democratic Society.  They were grungy looking hippie kids that hung out at a table by the Student Union.  Unlike other groups that solicited you as you walked past, they didn’t seem to care whether or not you were curious as to what they were all about.  It was a unique marketing approach in that it wasn’t marketing at all;  just pure masochistic baking in the Central Florida sun for some higher ideal that they didn’t bother trying to tell you about.  I don’t know how I noticed them, but I was intrigued enough to ask for more information.

Now at this point in my life, I understood the American political spectrum to range from right leaning Fox News Viewers all the way to enlightened fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.  I knew that the history books mentioned Communists and Socialists in America, but that they were mostly just the boogeyman that Joe McCarthy insisted was lurking under our country’s bed.  When I read “Students for a Democratic Society” on the banner, I thought to myself, “Oh, these people probably want to curb carbon emissions and bring the troops home from the War in Iraq.  Sounds like the place for me!”

The conversation in which I learned the date and time of their first meeting was forgettable in that it probably didn’t go any deeper than them telling me the date and time of the first meaning.  They were extremely committed to their apathetic marketing.

Within the first month of the Fall semester, I showed up at the pavilion near the Visual Arts Building for the meeting around 4 PM in the afternoon.  With this group, being on time made me extremely early.  As the clock ticked, more and more people showed up and soon we were out of space under the small pavilion.  On a side note, I’m not really sure why the University of Central Florida even has such a small pavilion given their 60,000+ undergrad population (which ranks second in the nation).

The two people running the meeting stepped forward and introduced themselves, explaining briefly that the organization was a very large tent under which a variety of ideologies co-existed to try and make a difference on campus and in the larger community.  Then they explained that we would be going around the circle, each person stating their name and the reason why they wanted to be a part of the club.

“Big Tent” was an understatement, but there was an overwhelmingly hard left lean to everyone in the group, even the ones who were dressed like normal human beings.  One person said that they joined the group because it was the only club on campus that accepted Anarchists.  Another was a reformed High School Republican Club President who saw the light and decided to abandon the dark side like Darth Vader chucking the Emperor down that hole in the end of Return of the Jedi (if you’re reading this from 1983, SPOILER ALERT).  One particularly articulate guy said he wanted to join the group, “to fuck shit up.”  This drew applause from leftists to my left and right.

We even had this guy who was way too freaking old to be coming to college club meetings on campus.  He was at least in his forties, and all of the members of the club who had participated in whatever it is that they do (I’m still not 100% sure) seemed to know who he was.  This old fellow was the organizer of “Cop Watch,” an organization that tails police officers and videos them so that they think twice before beating someone up for having the nerve to be a minority (this happens in Orlando, allegedly).

I don’t remember how I introduced myself.  It was probably some timid, moderate crap like, “I’m Brantley, and I think that there are too many loop holes in the corporate tax code!”

This meeting dragged on for over three hours.  I wanted to care.  I wanted to be one of these people.  I didn’t like cops ever since that time Officer Bacon (seriously, that’s his real name) gave me a ride home from that tiny high school party.  I loved Rage Against the Machine and Anti-Flag.  I totally read the Wikipedia page about Anarchy.  These should have been my people!  But they wanted too many different things and when you boiled it down, they didn’t want enough of any one thing to warrant an actual focus.

Schilling out your money to major record labels doesn't constitute commitment to a political stance.

I didn’t go to a second meeting.  Fighting the power was too exhausting.  That big tent got insufferably humid from all of the body heat.  Trumping all of the above stated reasons, I didn’t meet a single attractive girl in this club.  I had shown up assuming that there would be some liberated, sexy girl who wanted to show society that she owned her own body by having lots and lots of sex with me.  God, my imagination is magical.

They emailed me from time to time.  One time they invited me to protest Burger King’s poor treatment of the migrant workers that pick their tomatoes by doing something at the Burger King in the Student Union.  It was tempting, but this was back when they still served Chicken Fries and I loved those too much to wonder whether or not an employee spit on them because they recognized me as the guy who was being an asshole about farms or something.

The right to an at least mediocre fast food experience should not be infringed by exercises of free speech.

Another time, they printed out this gnarly, huge banner that spelled out the First Amendment one letter per 8 1/2” x 11” page.  They wanted to hold it up near the “Free Speech Lawn” in protest of the fact that there was a “Free Speech Lawn.”  “Shouldn’t we be able to hold these demonstrations absolutely anywhere on campus?” they argued.  They had a good point, sorta.

Needless to say, I had to take part in this free speech demonstration.  I kept reading the email.  They planned on starting this whole thing at 8 AM.  I set my alarm to go out and join them, but when it went off I rolled over and decided that I could live with limiting my first amendment activities to one patch of grass on campus.  Participatory democracy can be so uncomfortable.

The best time to stand up for what you believe in is no earlier than 11 AM.