I read a response last night that I want to share with you. It was from a fellow Southerner, a woman from the Baby Boomer generation. She is bothered by the protests and by those of you who are angry, and saying that at this very moment by lashing out. I will paraphrase her statements and include the inferences to which she eluded. But I want to break this down to help you understand that you do not have to change us. You do not have to convince us to change our ways. You have to be patient while you come into your own. You are starting to outnumber us after all. You are making contributions faster and younger than any of us did. Remember, that’s a little scary and a whole-lotta intimidating. But I want to caution you against seeing this in the way we are teaching you to do things (incorrectly for the most part). I am not doing this to “slam” her. I don’t know her. I know that she is probably a very good person. She is scared of protests, she is scared that she can’t control you and can’t understand how fast this world is moving She is holding to her symbols of peace and order because in her mind, that is right. And you are violating that so she is lashing out. The story she is making up in her mind (Rising Strong, Brene Brown) is that you are pouting. That you, the generation of a trophy for all, didn’t get what you wanted so you are throwing a tantrum and going home. You and I know that isn’t true. She is scared. And the only way she knows how to gain control or to express her fear is by lashing out, categorizing you as babies, dismissing your protests. She isn’t trying to understand. Not because she is bad or mean, but because she doesn’t understand and she is fearful. I must, no… we MUST, you MUST give her both the acknowledgement of that fear and the grace to have it.
I want to help de-code her language and please know I am taking a great deal of liberty here. I do not know this woman but I believe that she is doing what she believes is best, right and what makes her comfortable in a world that is increasingly UN-comfortable for her. Here you go:
“The country is based on the things every generation does. The millennials will be no different. You will see that in 40 or 50 years.” Absolutely true, each generation builds on the next and yes, you all will add to that. But she is also trying to infer that you aren’t special. Others have come before you and they were just as good as you think you are. Oldest lesson in our kindergarten class: people will try to tear you down not because you are bad, but because they want to build themselves up. Don’t hate on her for that, friends. Offer her compassion for the feeling of inadequacy that usually comes in these moments.
“No person or generation ever gets it right all the time. Blame us older people if you want but if it weren’t for us, you wouldn’t have anybody.” I would disagree- I think the generation of her parents, AKA, the Greatest Generation, got it right. But see what she is telling you here? If it weren’t for me, you wouldn’t be where you are. I think this is a feeling of frustration but it’s also a need to be validated. Boomers are facing retirement, the end of careers and even life. Don’t you think they want to be remembered? That their contributions and their lives meant something? She is angry and hurting and this is the expression of that, yes. But she is also scared.
“The people before you took prairie land and with their work and determination at the beginning of this country they built the most powerful country in the world. This was done before you were born.” Yes, but I would wager all this happened before SHE was born. She is including herself in the history of the United States but not you. Why? I don’t know. It’s wrong and unfair and I am sorry. I believe it comes from fear, the need for validation. She is also asking you to see it the way she sees it. This isn’t right, but it’s where we are. I ask you to be aware of this and not fall into this trap. She also is reaching out for recognition, gratitude, for her efforts and the efforts of her generation. My friends, you are the generation of accolades- recognition. You want it, you crave it- to be noticed. All humans do, it’s totally natural. That’s what she is inferring even if she doesn’t say it. Perhaps the next time you are in a conversation with someone older and this comes up, instead of defending your generation, you could acknowledge the contribution of the other and let that be the end of it. We all want to be recognized and thanked. Sometimes, that’s all it takes my friends.
“Had those people chosen differently you could have been born into a third world country.” She can’t know this, but I believe she wants you to recognize that in her eyes, you are very lucky. I know you understand that you are lucky- many of you are connected internationally and know what we have is worth fighting for. Ironically, it’s why you are protesting in some cases. But, again, I believe that she wants you to be grateful in a way that agrees with her idea of “gratitude” so that she can see it, agree with it, and feel comfortable.
“Millennials are reaping benefits of others’ hard work and they shouldn’t be cry babies. They should be grateful and shut up.” This is the crux of the problem, my friends. We don’t communicate in a way that is meaningful. We end up making up stories in our heads that because the frustration didn’t look the way I thought it would look, it must mean that you are complaining or being a cry baby. We begin to demand that you stop speaking, stop protesting and get back in line with all the other citizens who are going to calmly move past this like adults.
My Millennials: Don’t do it.
This is where we have gone so very wrong. I have watched my friends, my colleagues, my family and those around me become increasingly angry over many things in these past years. But, and I can’t speak for everyone, I believe that we have allowed that anger to either consume us or we have shoved it in the back of our minds only to be reawakened later, more fierce and ugly than ever. Once again, we have failed you because we haven’t coached you through anger, through fear, through emotions that can consume, through severed relationships and feelings of betrayal. We haven’t helped you see that sarcastic flippancy, dismissal with a sneer, is also a form of anger, disappointment and frustration. I am sorry. I am trying to do just that with these letters to you. I want to break down the miscommunications and the failures, the fears and the hurt that we are all wallowing in right now.
The only way we can do that is to truly listen to each other. To not move our anger to the back of our minds, to reach out and ask “What did you mean by that?” To speak into someone’s anger at us with grace and with emotional maturity. I can’t intervene in every conversation. I am asking you to look at this one, this one woman, and not react to her words, but seek to understand them instead. She is one of many who are angry at you, who think you are the problem. Please, my friends, let’s find a way to embrace her into what YOU are: generous, thoughtful, intelligent and yes, angry. But you are also passionate and concerned and bigger in numbers. You are going to take the world by force or by choice. I am asking you to choose to work with us, choose to take a deep breath and be patient with us. Choose to be the change we need instead of changing in reaction to us. Keep protesting with your words, your feelings, your gatherings. Protest in little ways and small ways (more on that later). Protest also by understanding instead of returning their anger with more anger. Protest by being who you are. Protest by speaking loudly and following that with action (more on that later too). Protest by not getting back in line.
Take over the world, my Millennials.
I love you so-