Several years ago, I made a commitment to my generation to help other groups within the community gain a better understanding of who we are. In speeches across Palm Beach County, I’ve explained that millennials – those of us who are 18 to 35 years old – are a rising force within our country; now tying the baby boomers as the largest demographic of American voters, we aren’t a group to be overlooked or underestimated. Yet, for all of the good qualities we share — intensity, creativity, and desire to improve — there are some flaws that have been underscored by recent events.
I often defend our shortcomings as products of circumstance: a rapidly evolving world, technology and tools which have encouraged a degree of selfishness and an evaporation of essential social skills, and parents who often provided too much to us growing up – creating a group that depends on instant gratification, is generally impatient, sheltered and complacent and confined to the boundaries of finely tailored social spheres.
While I don’t excuse millennials on certain aspects of their behavior, I understand them. I understand that like many generations before us, we came of age during tense conditions both at home and abroad – many of us in classrooms as we witnessed the horrific events of 9/11 unfold before our eyes, many of us graduating high school or college while the global economy slipped into the depths of recession.
Today, many of us are attempting to find high-paying jobs that will help pay back our massive student loans, ever-vigilant of a potential terrorist attack on any street at any time, wondering if sensible measures will be taken to protect our climate for our children, and disconnected from the polarized and divisive nature of our nation’s leadership.
Yes, in many ways the defects in our generational personality have been born of circumstance – but it’s an excuse whose time is soon running out.
Consider some of the conclusions that can be drawn from the last election and the subsequent status of our politics. The first is the most obvious: Nearly everything is contestable; we’re no longer quarreling over specific elements of policy or ideology, but seem to be fighting to preserve the much broader idea of democracy, itself.
The second is that – now more than ever – it’s the public’s responsibility to hold our elected officials accountable for both their actions and decisions; in fact, in an age where “alternative facts” are propagated as truth, it’s a requirement.
Third – and this is perhaps the most important for millennials – our public must do more.
The daily confusion we are witnessing is, in part, the result of widespread complacency – for too long taking the function of our government for granted, neglecting to vote on the assumption that it doesn’t make a difference, and assuming that what we have grown used to will always be.
While these are results that are open for assessment, they are also results that require a renewed sense of broader action.
For a generation which is on its way to assuming power, the first step toward this action entails overcoming the reality of our contradictory nature: We cannot change the world in large ways, if we are unwilling to take the smaller steps required to begin that process. Too often, millennials are consumed by idealism – lost in vast ideological concepts without acknowledging the practicalities of reality.
Recently, protests have sprung up across the country – and my generation is taking an active role in leading the charge against actions that have rightly created concern. While it is relieving to see these events – a display of the health of our democracy – it simply isn’t enough.
It isn’t enough to voice dissenting opinions – displaying them with every resource of available social media – but then stopping short of the more tedious work that will facilitate the changes we demand.
It requires the courage to become immersed in the community, the discipline to remain educated on the issues, and the commitment to ourselves to be active stakeholders in the future we want.
How my generation responds to these uncertain and alarming times is a true test of both our potential and our will – not simply to seek more and want better, but to do more and have better.
If there’s a silver lining, it rests in the opportunity that is now available to my generation despite the pace of the chaos that surrounds us. What we do with that opportunity will not only define who we are and what we want, it will ultimately define where we choose to go.
RYAN ROSSI, WEST PALM BEACH
The daily confusion we are witnessing is, in part, the result of widespread complacency.