An open let­ter …

On why I was wrong about mil­len­ni­als

Weekend Herald - Canvas - - MEGAN NICOL REED -

It’s a funny thing, isn’t it, how some­times you need to be on the re­ceiv­ing end of some­one else’s view­point be­fore you can grasp your own. It hap­pened the other day. There we were, a group of women in our 40s and 50s, dis­cussing mil­len­ni­als and their in­fu­ri­at­ingly im­pos­si­ble sense of en­ti­tle­ment, when, and it was as if by light­ning bolt, sud­denly I re­alised that rather than feel­ing ir­ri­tated by the ex­pec­ta­tions of an en­tire gen­er­a­tion as I once did (par­tic­u­larly when I still worked along­side them in an of­fice), th­ese days I ac­tu­ally feel quite sorry for them.

Sev­eral years ago I wrote a col­umn ma­lign­ing the lit­tle bas­tards, so I’ll freely ad­mit it’s some­thing of an about-face. Isn’t it the truth, though, that most prej­u­dice ex­ists in a vac­uum? And maybe I just hadn’t re­ally talked to many 20-some­things, like re­ally talked, about their hopes and dreams and fears. I’d be ly­ing if I was to sug­gest that in or­der to chal­lenge my pre­con­cep­tions I de­lib­er­ately sought out their com­pany but, lately, by pure chance, the op­por­tu­nity for in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tion with sev­eral mem­bers of the gen­er­a­tion fol­low­ing mine has pre­sented it­self. And I’ve been left both pleas­antly sur­prised and strangely per­turbed. Sup­pos­edly dis­en­gaged and vac­u­ous, I was taken aback by just how much they care. Any­one who in­gests the me­dia in any form has to have mis­giv­ings about the cur­rent pre­car­i­ous­ness of our world; un­der threat from cat­a­clysmic en­vi­ron­men­tal change, var­i­ous in­sane men at the helm. In­deed, some­times I am quite over­whelmed with panic about it all. How­ever, ul­ti­mately, I carry on, liv­ing my life as I al­ways have. It is more than just this un­de­fined worry for the fu­ture, though, for many mil­len­ni­als. Their ap­pre­hen­sions about what lies in store for hu­man­ity are so great that they, and many of their friends, are mak­ing the de­ci­sion not to have chil­dren.

We know mil­len­ni­als aren’t leav­ing home be­cause they’d rather spend their money on smashed av­o­cado and, you know, they can’t af­ford to buy a house and stuff. That they aren’t learn­ing to drive be­cause it’s cooler to cy­cle, most cars will be self-drive sooner or later, and any­way there’s al­ways Uber. And it can all seem faintly ridicu­lous, that, ul­ti­mately, they’re just drag­ging their heels about grow­ing up. But to re­pro­duce is the basest of bi­o­log­i­cal im­pulses, and to choose not to be­cause you can­not trust the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of life as we know it, well that’s a pro­foundly ter­ri­ble and ter­ri­fy­ing po­si­tion to find your­self in. Be­ing forced to re­cast my ideas about mil­len­ni­als has also pushed me to re­think my chil­dren and their con­tem­po­raries. A process, I see now, that should be on­go­ing and life­long. We had some very iron-fisted rules around screen time in our house, and while I still strug­gle with my ado­les­cent son’s so­cial me­di­ade­vo­tion, grad­u­ally I’ve re­alised that by re­strict­ing it too se­verely, we are ac­tu­ally re­strict­ing both his world, and his means of mak­ing sense of and com­mu­ni­cat­ing with that world. Weirdly though, for all his re­liance on his phone, he re­fuses to an­swer it if he doesn’t recog­nise the num­ber. Per­haps it’s his way of plac­ing bound­aries upon a life that can seem as if it has none. A life in which he has every­thing at his fin­ger­tips — knowl­edge, in­for­ma­tion, ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s easy to envy him this, but then he will never travel with the sense of the great un­known that I did; a few trav­eller’s cheques in a bum bag, let­ters from home wait­ing at the next poste restante. When it comes time for him to forge his way, some­one will have al­ready posted a pic­ture of the lo­cal fare he’ll be sam­pling, some­one will have al­ready shared an im­age of the view from his ac­com­mo­da­tion. I just pray that a bunch of mil­len­ni­als will have fig­ured out a way to re­pair the Earth and rid it of the mad­men, so that my chil­dren and their con­tem­po­raries will feel free to hatch a new gen­er­a­tion.

To re­pro­duce is the basest of bi­o­log­i­cal im­pulses, and to choose not to be­cause you can­not trust the con­tin­ued ex­is­tence of life as we know it is a pro­foundly ter­ri­ble and ter­ri­fy­ing po­si­tion to find your­self in.

Do write. megan­ni­col­reed@gmail.com

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