What Boomer Miss When They Bash Millennials
By Sam Gilman | 10/09/2014
Baby Boomers love to offer half-hearted apologies for passing our generation large bills, a broken political system, and enormous income inequality. Often, they then chuckle to themselves. They then tell us they're sorry, that our generation is in trouble and suggest ways we can fix our country's problems by not being lazy.
We hear the same conversation, "Your generation is lazy, selfish and always on your phones." As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni wrote in a recent columnon the subject of generational fairness, "Among Americans age 40 and older, there's a pastime more popular than football, Candy Crush or HBO -- it's bashing millennials."
Our parents and Boomer punditry often miss two key parts of the conversation: the immense pressures facing many our generation and millennial efforts to fix our nation's problems.
What we don't hear is a conversation on the challenges we face. As Catherine Rampell wrote in an op-ed for the Washington Post yesterday, "We want to move out. We want to own our home. We want to marry. We want to work." Unemployment is high, student debt is crippling, marriage is down, and living with our parents is way up.
Mr. Bruni has written a series of op-eds recently that offer a clear window into this mindset. He is clearly troubled by the lack of stewardship of the American dream from one generation to the next. In this first op-ed, he addressed our generation with a "murmured apology" for handing our generation long-term environmental, opportunity, budgetary and political deficits. "Dear millennials, we're sorry," he wrote.
Mr. Bruni writes a sincere article, and he should not be criticized for the catchy headline, which undoubtedly provoked conversations in many households. He clearly is advancing the critical cause of generational stewardship. That said, he has missed a central and optimistic point: the agency of the next generation working to undo the harm caused by the one before us.
In August, he lamented that in a rut of political "hopelessness" and cited a Wall St. Journal NBC poll that 60 percent of Americans thought our past brighter than our future. Alternatively, 49 percent of millennials according to a new Pew study, believe that our best days are still to come. Certainly, some of the sentiment comes from youthful optimism. That said, a large part comes from young people across the country making tremendous innovations in politics, technology and media.
Last week, he offered a solution: "We live in a country of sharpening divisions, pronounced tribalism, corrosive polarization. And I wish we would nudge kids -- no, I wish we would push them -- to use college as an exception and a retort to that, as a pre-emptive strike against it, as a staging ground for behaving and living in a different, broader, healthier way."
The good news is Millennials aren't waiting for a push. We are taking ownership ourselves. The organization that I founded as a 19-year-old two years ago,Common Sense Action does exactly what Mr. Bruni proposes. We are an entirely millennial driven organization based on 40 campuses in 20 different states, ranging from UC Berkeley to Louisiana State University. We work together to bridge the political divides that have mired Washington in gridlock.
Thousands of millennials across the country and the political spectrum have engaged with us as we have isolated our generation's gravest problems, debated hundreds of potential political solutions, and created the first bipartisan millennial policy agenda -- the Agenda on Generational Equity. And we're building a coalition of voters that supports our effort to promote generational fairness and millennial economic mobility. Just last week, we registered 500-plus people in five days to vote, receive turnout reminders, and vote-by-mail ballots. Common Sense Action is just one the many creative solutions my generation is bringing to the table.
My friend Tom Guthrie authored a post addressed to Mr. Bruni, saying, "We don't want your apology." I half agree. Mr. Bruni's apology clearly provoked a deeper exploration of the concept of generational fairness. But an apology without offering an avenue to change behavior falls short.
Reading Mr. Bruni's columns we understand that he wants to ensure that the next generation of Americans will continue to have access to an ever expanding promise of American opportunity. So our message to you Mr. Bruni is take a page out of your colleague David Bornstein's book. Use your platform at the New York Times by writing an op-ed to change the conversation and to highlight solutions and millennial agency. Your platform could help inspire leaders at all ages to elevate a nationwide and intergenerational conversation about fairness, sustainability, and opportunity.
To Mr. Bruni, Mr. Bruni's readers, and other apologetic Boomers: Millennials could use your allyship. Help us elevate solutions.